The Miracle of the Rocket by Otto Willi Gail

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The Miracle of the Rocket by Otto Willi Gail (from Das Universum Volume 50 1929)

It is said that miracles no longer exist in our sober times of technology and traffic. But it seems to us that the age of miracles has just really dawned.

The Rocket car on the racetrack

Isn't it a fairytale miracle when we sit at home in front of a small wooden box, turn a few screws and then hear people talking and singing thousands of kilometers away from us - in Rome, in Budapest, in Oslo -, and not even a wire connects us? Doesn't it border on the incomprehensible to imagine that the entire atmosphere of the earth has been full of music and speeches ever since radio has existed? It seems as if we people of the 193rd decade have completely forgotten how to be amazed. For us, it is quite self-evident that the long journey of a letter from Stuttgart to Australia, i.e. halfway around the world, costs only as much as a small glass of beer; we don't find anything special about it when we read in our newspaper this morning the description of an earthquake wave that struck the coast of distant Japan only yesterday evening; and when we hear from the astronomers that the bright North Star on the tail of the »Little Bear« is 2700 billion kilometers away from our world, we are a little surprised at the monstrous expanses of the universe, but hardly at the much more astonishing fact that it was possible to measure this gigantic distance from our relatively tiny earth.

But in the summer of 1928, when in Berlin a very strange and previously unseen vehicle raced down the Avus racecourse in front of a mighty stream of fire, as our first illustration shows, at such a speed that the weary spectators lost sight and hearing, but with it's arrival murmurs went around the world, and experts and laypeople shook their heads in amazement. The rocket, this toy of the midsummer night's festivals that has been despised so far, as - motor? As a vehicle drive of such surprising power? In fact, the hellish ride of the powder car was something like an increase in rank for the rocket: it became before the eyes, ears of The rocket car on the racetrack and - nose of the world as the youngest, promising member in the worthy row of the technically useful machines ceremonially received.

Sub-detachment of the parachute from the rocket body

And now she seriously wants to show what she can do. Because she knows exactly: the first ride on the Avus Bahn was a sensation; and if she does not show herself worthy of the great interest that has been shown to her from all over the world since then, she falls into the hands of the people.

However - the rocket can really do something; that was shown by Opel's rocket car ride. At least it can accelerate a racing car from standstill to a speed of two hundred kilometers within a few seconds. But that is only the very first beginning of her career, which is embellished with great - maybe too great - expectations.

Of course, one shouldn't expect anything from the rocket that doesn't suit it. For example, it will never be able to beat the petrol engine of the small car. First of all, it would be a pointless waste of money to generate such low traffic speeds with rockets; secondly, the tormented pedestrians would scold the many meters long tail of fire and the mighty roar of the jets much more than the open exhaust of the most powerful compressor; and third - and this is the main point! - after all, the rocket cannot generate continuous propulsion for hours, but can only impart relatively short-acting, but all the more powerful energy impulses.

The ambition of the rocket is therefore by no means in motor vehicle construction, not even in racing cars. It is true that the builders of the rocket car insisted on beating the speed record on rails just for the fun of it - with the first successful rocket ride on the Burgwedel-Celle railway junction, a speed of 281 kilometers per hour was achieved, and that is a speed ​​that no vehicle running on rails has ever achieved, but with that the rocket car has also played its part and you can marvel at it in the German Museum. - So if the rocket really wants to let off steam and bring out its young strength, then it has to seek out the element in which there are no curves, no potholes and, for the time being, no police prohibition signs either: the air!

But if the rocket is clever, then it avoids initiating an a priori hopeless competition with propeller planes. The rocket plane will undoubtedly succeed in flying faster than all other flying machines for a few seconds or minutes; but you may be content with that! Because the air resistance, which increases immeasurably at high speeds, does not allow a significant increase in the previous flight performance, and for general air traffic the rocket drive is too expensive, too uncomfortable and for the time being also too unreliable and dangerous.

Neither the car nor the plane needs to follow the first, somewhat awkward, but powerful attempts at movement by the new “competitor” with squinted eyes. The rocket has completely different tasks, and its future lies where all other transport machines have no business from the outset and where petrol engines and propellers fail irrevocably: in the aerated upper layers of our ocean of air, in the so-called stratosphere between 15 and 50 kilometers altitude.

Luckily, the way the rocket works is not based on the fact that its fiery gas tail hits the air and pushes off of it, as if it were a cushion, but is based solely on Newton's reaction principle, which is not dependent on any medium but itself and does not lose its validity in empty space. The rocket can therefore accelerate in the legendary stratosphere as well and even better than on the Avus racetrack in Berlin, which is not entirely smooth. And because up there in absolute calm there are neither clouds nor snowstorms nor other adversities, she can remain completely indifferent to the most abominable general weather situation on the Atlantic: and since the stratosphere is such a poor area that there is even a lack of proper air, almost all resistance falls away, and the rocket plane can -- as magical as it sounds! - hit almost any speed. The extremely fast travel, in turn, compensates for the better carrying capacity of denser sub-air layers, so that the powder-powered aircraft will be able to get by with normal wings even in the thin stratosphere.

So a new and safer way from Europe to America beckons, and so far everything would be clear. But -- now comes again that bad quality which inevitably sticks to the rocket motor, namely the inability to work for a long time. And that is why the coming Atlantic flight with the rocket will differ quite significantly from all previous undertakings of this kind. It won't be a real flight at all, but rather a kind of sling - a high arc throw. That sounds fantastic, but it is quite conceivable. You have to think of the start in the following way: First, the oversea rocket plane climbs up to an altitude of at least 12,000 to 15,000 meters with the help of propellers or rocket propulsion. Of course, it must contain hermetically sealed cabins and be equipped with an adequate heating system for the occupants, because at such heights it is colder than at the North Pole in winter. Then the plane starts to jump across the Atlantic, "quite simply" in such a way that the jets only work at full power for a few minutes, but during this time the machine is brought up to such a high speed that the main part of its further trajectory in a free ballistic trajectory, which leads up to heights of hundreds of kilometers, without any further effort, like a bullet.

The future development of high-speed traffic technology is probably moving towards the goal of no longer lugging extorted goods from place to place by constant drive, but simply hurling them towards the destination - a method that has long been used on a small scale by brick carriers when building houses. However, the transport of people in this robust way is only rumored to be within the range of possibilities that can be considered at all thanks to the large rocket. Because if you wanted to eject it with the help of a gigantic projectile, then the entire speed required to overcome the throwing distance would have to be generated in the projectile tube in fractions of a second. And no brick and no post sack could endure that - let alone a human being! In the case of the rocket, on the other hand, the development of energy can be regulated and extended just long enough for the acceleration pressure to remain within tolerable limits.

For example, to fly across the Atlantic, a run-up speed of around 3000 meters per second (= 10,800 kilometers per hour) would be necessary. If this speed, which is inconceivable by today's standards, is reached by the approaching rocket plane within three minutes, then the speed will increase by 17 seconds per second. Every halfway healthy person can endure that and especially a postal sack.

It is often claimed that no one can ask for such high speeds. Why not? Sheer speed, even the highest conceivable speed, has absolutely no influence on the living organism. After all, we are constantly sweeping through space at the undeniably alarmingly high speed of 100,000 kilometers per hour - swept along by the earth on its perpetual flight around the sun - and we don't feel a thing of it! It is not speed that could become dangerous for the rocket drivers, but merely a change, an increase in speed, which is called acceleration and which alone causes the dreaded backward pressure.

But let's leave the passengers completely out of the game. It would be a technical miracle of the first rank if one day it was possible to ship unmanned mail rockets in a free trajectory to the American coast in one and a half hours. And such hyperexpress mail carriers would also pay off financially; because even with the highest imaginable operating costs, the postage for each individual letter would be far below the charges for cable telegrams. And telegrams wouldn't arrive much sooner over there than rocket letters.

Of course - many a liter of brain sweat still has to flow before the problem of landing such a futuristic machine that bursts out of the clouds in a flash is solved. If it is manned (rocket plane), then it will probably be possible to carefully descend into denser air layers in a very long gliding flight and use the braking effect of the air until a normal gliding landing can end the whole journey.

But if it is unmanned (single ballistic missile), then there is nothing left but to install a large parachute that automatically intercepts the missile or at least rips out and rescues cargo and instruments, as our second figure shows. The rocket body itself may sink in the sea. Perhaps, so that it doesn't wreak havoc when it crashes, it will be equipped with an infernal machine, which will turn itself into action shortly after the parachute is released and turn the rocket body into dust while it is still flying. Burned-out rockets don't have a particularly high value anyway.

But even today's ordinary propeller planes can benefit from the rocket. In any case, it will provide a very welcome additional boost, which will significantly shorten the uncomfortably long run-up meetings at the start. And when landing or even in the event of a crash, rockets which, as our full-page sound image shows, discharge in the opposite direction to the fall, can have a strong braking effect and may even save machines and human lives.

Into Space

Yes, the rocket is a marvel and has all sorts of futures! Speed ​​is their solution, because their effectiveness, in contrast to the explosion motor, is greater the faster the trip goes. And that's why she won't be satisfied with the trip »Berlin-New York in 90 minutes«. She wants a lot more! In distant times it would like to be taken on its back by the largest existing transatlantic rocket aircraft - it would like to detach itself from its carrier at the highest point of the slingshot arc, increase the existing speed even further with fresh energy and thus bring about the raging speed of eleven kilometers per second , which would suffice to snatch the machine from the earth's spell, to carry it, as our last illustration shows, out into the immeasurable cosmos - towards the moon!