The dream takes shape

While much of the groundwork for modern rocketry was laid in Russia and America, it was in Germany that the idea of space travel really took hold. In the early 20th century, visionaries planted the seeds that would ultimately give rise to the rocketry programs of the Second World War.


Frau im Mond was only a moderate success at the cinema - lorgely because it was silent at a time when "talkies" were becoming increasingly popular. Ironically, this silent movie can claim credit for inventing the launch countdown, added to the script by Fritz Lang in order to increase tension.

public promotion of such apparently outlandish ideas soon turned Oberth into something of a celebrity. However, while Goddard was openly mocked for his comparatively modest suggestions, Oberth's far more visionary proposals were welcomed with open arms, partly thanks to bestselling popularizations of the work by authors such as Max Valier and Willy Ley. Even though Oberth had certainly developed most of his ideas, such as liquid-fuelled rockets and multiple stages, independently of either Goddard or Tsiolkovskii, the fact that he had written to the isolated American in 1920 to request a copy of his early papers was enough to arouse some suspicion and envy across the Atlantic - for the rest of his life, Goddard referred to Oberth as "that German".

Throughout the 1920s, Oberth's fame and popularity increased, and in 1929 he published a revised and expanded version of his work, Ways to Spaceflight, that attracted even more attention.

Germany's equivalent of Goddard and Tsiolkovskii was without doubt Hermann Oberth. While Goddard had been inspired by Wells, Oberth's interest in space travel was fired by reading Verne's From the Earth to the Moon at the age of 11, and within a few years he was making his own model rockets. Though he initially trained to be a doctor at his father's behest, harsh experience as a medic in the trenches of the First World War prompted him to follow his interest in physics. However, he failed to gain a doctorate from the University of Heidelberg, largely because his dissertation explored physiological and medical aspects of rocket travel in which his physicist supervisor had no grounding. Rather than revise and resubmit, Oberth instead financed its publication as a book, The Rocket into Interplanetary Space (1923). Just as had happened with Goddard in America, his


Long's lunar voyage is a tale of jealousy and mistrust among the crew of on expedition visiting the Moon in search of gold discovered by the astronomer Professor Manfeldt.




Although it offered the first realistic depiction of spaceflight, Lang's film was not the first to touch on the idea of a trip to the Moon - that .. honour goes to French pioneer Georges Melies's rather more light-hearted Le Voyage dans la Lune of 1902 (right).

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