Hermann Julius Oberth was born on June 25, 1894 in Hermannstadt, Siebenbüergen. His interest in space travel was awakened at the early age of 11 by two books of Jules Verne, From the Earth to the Moon and Journey Around the Moon, and this interest remained strong throughout his life. He concluded his studies in Munich, Göttingen and Heidelberg with a dissertation entitled Rockets Into Interplanetary Space, which, however, was rejected by the professional committee at the time as being too utopian. Nevertheless, the work was printed privately and it caused great controversy in the world press. Admiration vied with rejection, the latter often accompanied by bitter ridicule.
Hermann Oberth found a reliable companion for life in his loyal and courageous wife Tilli, born Hummel, who gave him the strength to bear many disappointments and to retain his faith in himself. It was at this time, too, that his principal work, Ways to Space Travel, was published and translated into many different languages. Today this work is recognized as a classic of space flight technology.
In 1938, the family moved from Siebenbürgen, which was then part of the German Reich. Oberth went first to the Technical College in Vienna, then to the Technical College in Dresden, and finally to the rocket stronghold, Peenemünde, where his pupil Wernher von Braun had meanwhile built and started the world's first rocket.
Nor was Hermann Oberth spared the heavy blows of fate. Of his four children, the Second World War first took from him his son Julius. He was reported as missing in 1943 near Stalino. In August 1944, his youngest daughter Ilse was killed in an explosion at her place of work.
The end of the war found Hermann Oberth at the WASAG complex in the vicinity of Wittenberg. There he worked on solid-fuel rockets for air defense. He succeeded in moving his family to Feucht before the border closed.
In 1948, he was working as an independent consultant and writer in Switzerland. In Italy in 1950, he concluded the work he had begun at the WASAG. In 1953, he returned to Feucht and attended the publication of his book Man in Space, in which he described his ideas for a space reflector, a space station, and electric spaceship and space suits.
In the meantime, Werher von Braun had established an American institute for space exploration in Huntsville, Alabama, where Hermann Oberth now joined him. Among other things, Oberth was engaged here on a study entitled The Development of Space Technology in the Next Ten Years. At the end of 1958, again in Feucht, he found the time to record and publish his thoughts on the technological possibilities of a "moon car," a "moon catapult." a "muffled airplane," and a "muffled helicopter," etc. In 1960, he was hired by Convair as a technical consultant during the development of the Atlas rocket in the United States.
In 1962, at the age of 68, Hermann Oberth retired. The oil crisis of 1977 prompted him to contemplate alternative energy sources. He designed a wind power station which made use of the jet stream as an energy source.
However, his primary interest during his retirement lay in philosophical questions. Oberth's skill at developing, with prophetic clarity, future projects for mankind, necessitates the question, whether mankind is ready for these future tasks. In the books, Matter and Life and Catechism of the Uranics, he concludes, on the grounds of scientific considerations, that man has an eternal and educable soul, and that we "can never be completely certain about reward and punishment in the hereafter because," as he goes on to say, "in that case the good works, from a psychological viewpoint, would take on the quality of usury and would no longer be seen as an expression of the social instinct. God cannot create the ideal man without educating him. That is His only means of molding man for His purposes."
At the age of 90, in his book Primer For Those Who Would Govern, he summed up all of his insights into showing us what mistakes could lead to the downfall of democratic governments and called for an honest, unbiased political education of the voter.
On December 28, 1989, Hermann Oberth passed away quietly at the age of 95. Many of his epoch-making ideas and developments have since become reality and have won him recognition and the highest honors all over the world.
In the HERMANN OBERTH SPACE MUSEUM in Feucht near Nuremberg, his researches and their results are open to the public, and the Herman Oberth Society brings together scientists, researchers and astronauts from East and West in order to carry on his work.
Hermann Oberth believed that the highest moral value lay in the justice to which each man must commit himself. He often said that a lasting peace would only be possible when justice became a reality. On his tombstone he had chiseled the Biblical quote; "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice."
Translated from the German by Lynne Kvinnesland.