Saturday, September 02, 2006

Noordung's solar space station, 1928

A beautiful museum was erected in Slovenia to preserve and honor the work of early space pioneer Herman Potočnik (pseudonym: Noordung).

In 1925, a chronically ill and impoverished engineer in Vienna devoted himself entirely to space travel. His name was Herman Potočnik (1892 - 1929), and in 1928 his only book, Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums - der Raketen-motor (The Problem of Space Travel, the Rocket Motor) was published.

In it, he gave detailed plans for the construction of a geostationary space station, solar powered and manned, called Wohnrad (Habitat Wheel). The design consisted of a ring with an outer diameter of 164 feet (50 metres) for living quarters, two large, concave mirrors for solar energy assembled to one end of the central axis, and an astronomical observation deck. His was among the first to propose a wheel-shaped space station in order to to create artificial gravity. The book did not bring Potočnik fame or fortune, however. Engineers in Vienna dismissed his ideas as sheer fantasy, although it was of influence on the German Verein für Raumschiffahrt (The Space Flight Society) that was located in Berlin. Founded in 1927, it counted amongst its members Hermann Oberth and Wernher von Braun.

The Verein für Raumschiffahrt also published a magazine titled Die Rakete (The Rocket), from 1927 till 1929, sporting some evocative covers as seen below.

Potočnik too was a member of the Verein für Raumschiffahrt. He died in Vienna on August 27, 1929 of pneumonia, in great poverty. Parts of his magnum opus were translated and in English, in the July, August and September issues of Gernsback's Science Wonder Stories in 1929. Oberth coined the phrase 'space station'to describe Potočnik's concept. Let us here, make place for Hermann Noordung as he wished himself to be known, and give the last words to him:
"Conquering space! It would be the most grandiose of all achievements ever dreamed of, a fulfillment of the highest purpose: to save the intellectual accomplishments of mankind for eternity before the final plunge into oblivion. Only when we succeed in transplanting our civilization to other celestial bodies, thus spreading it over the entire universe, only when mankind with all its efforts and work and hopes and with what it has achieved in many thousands of years of striving, only when all of this is no longer just a whim of cosmic events, a result of random incidents in eternal nature's game that arise and die down with our little Earth so large for us and yet so tiny in the universe will we be justified to feel as if we were sent by God as an agent for a higher purpose, although the means to fulfill this purpose were created by man himself through his own actions."

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