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Hermann Oberth Letter to Rudolf Nebel

 Collection — Box: Assorted rare collections, Box 1, Folder: 1
Identifier: 2011-12-15
The collection is comprised of a single five-page typed letter to Rudolf Nebel from Hermann Oberth regarding rocketry work, November 1, 1930. No envelope accomanies the letter. It is from "Prof. Oberth, Medias, Romania" to "Herr Nebel" and includes a signature of "H. Oberth" in pencil on the final page. The letter is written in German and has not been translated or transcribed.

Additional information as provided by the auction house (see Immediate Source of Acquistion note) from where the letter was purchased:

EARLY LETTER FROM THE ROCKETRY PIONEER, WITH EXTENSIVE TECHNICAL CONTENT. In 1928, the film director Fritz Lang hired Oberth as technical consultant for his forthcoming movie "Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon)" and Oberth promised to launch a liquid-fueled rocket at the premiere to publicize the film. He hired as his assistant Rudolf Nebel, a World War I pilot who exaggerated his engineering qualifications. Only Robert Goddard had succeeded in building a liquid-fueled rocket at that time, and Oberth struggled in vain to get the rocket ready for the premiere in October 1929. Crestfallen, he returned to Medias, Romania where he was teaching basic engineering at the local high school.

Nebel remained in Berlin, working with Wernher von Braun, Klaus Riedel, and other members of the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (Spaceflight Society), an amateur rocketry group. They developed the "Mirak," short for Minimumrakete, and, after two explosions, successfully launched a third prototype in May of 1931. At the time of the this letter, Nebel was working on the second Mirak and was about to establish the Raketenflugplatz (rocket aerodrome) near Berlin.

Away from the excitement in Berlin, Oberth repeats some earlier advice: "Send me the whole Minimumrakete as soon as possible, you will not have any luck working on it alone. I noticed from your letter that you haven't seriously tested the ammonium nitrate cartridge that I recommended." He provides detailed criticisms of Nebel's prototype, and remarks "I also believe the man who is operating the detonator is playing with his life.... I took everything needed for the first gasoline tests when I left Berlin, with the exception of the ammonium nitrate cartridges, because I thought that you would not have the patience and time."

After several more paragraphs of technical suggestions, Oberth suggests Nebel find another job for the next year while he addresses the remaining issues with pressure and the nozzles, for "I am truly of the opinion that we are not able to generate enough propaganda for our Minimumrakete, even if everything is successful, since the altitude is too low."


  • 1930 November 1


Language of Materials

All materials are in German.

Conditions Governing Access

The original document is fragile and should not be handled by researchers, for preservation reasons. A digitized copy is available. For more information contact us.

Conditions Governing Use

The Museum of Flight (TMOF) Archives is the owner of the physical materials in the archives and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from TMOF archives before any publication use. TMOF does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.


0.01 Cubic Feet (1 letter-size file folder)

Biographical Note: Hermann Oberth

Hermann Julius Oberth (1894-1989) was a German physicist and is considered a founding father of rocketry and astronautics.

Hermann Oberth was born on June 24, 1894 in current-day Sibiu, Romania. Oberth started work on rockets at a young age, contructing his first model rocket at 14 years old. He was drafted into the Imperial German Army at the onset of World War I, where he served in a medical unit but also found time to experiment with weightlessness. On July 6, 1918 he married Mathilde Hummel. The couple had four children.

Post-World War I, he relocated to Germany and studied physics. In 1922, he submitted his proposal for a doctoral dissertation on rocket science, which was rejected. However, Oberth published it privately and by 1929, had expanded it into the book, "Wege zur Raumschiffahrt (Ways to Spaceflight)".

Oberth was a member of the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR); the "Spaceflight Society." In 1928-1929, he was a scientific consultant on Fritz Lang's film "Frau im Mond (The Woman in the Moon)" and his main project was to build and launch a rocket for publicity prior to the film's premiere. To do so, he hired assistants, one of whom was engineer and spaceflight advocate Rudolf Nebel. Unfortunately the rocket was not completed in time.

In late 1929, Oberth was assisted in a liquid-fueled rocket motor experiment by a young Wernher von Braun, who became a pioneer in rocket and space technology and who Oberth later worked for in the United States. Oberth's work in rocketry continued until his retirement in 1962.

Hermann Oberth died in Nuremberg, West Germany on December 28, 1989.


Biography derived from information found on Wikipedia, NASA, and Encyclopedia Brittannica.
Biographical Note: Rudolf Nebel Rudolf Nebel (1894-1978) was a spaceflight and rocketry advocate. He was active in Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR - Spaceflight Society) during the 1930s and instrumental in rebuilding Germany's rocketry programs following World War II.

Rudolf Nebel was born in Weissenburg, Germany on March 21, 1894. During World War I, he was a fighter pilot in the Luftstreitkräfte. He also pioneered the use of unguided air-launched signal rockets as offensive armament while flying the Halberstadt D.II. After World War I, Nebel earned a degree in engineering.

Circa late 1920s, he was one of the assistants hired by Hermann Oberth to build and launch a liquid-propellant rocket to help publicize director Fritz Lang's upcoming film, "Frau im Mond," although the project was not completed in time for the film's release. Nebel was key in several areas of the early German rocketry industry, including being an early part of the VfR and its activities and arranging for the German Army to support rocketry development. Ironically, this led to most of Nebel's peers being hired by the German Army and removed from civilan development. In 1934, the German government prohibited private rocket development effectively shutting down Nebel's rocketry work at the time.

After World War II, Nebel remained in Germany. With fellow engineers Karl Poggensee and Albert Puellenberg, he resumed work on rocketry for peaceful endeavors. They were active in the 1950 and 1951 meetings of the new International Astronautical Federation, with Nebel delivering a lecture on space travel and rocketry in Cuhaven on April 6, 1951.

Rudolf Nebel died in Dusseldorf, Germany on September 18, 1978.


Biography derived from Wikipedia and "Nebel." Encyclopedia Astronautica.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was purchased by the Museum at auction from Bonhams & Butterfields.


No further accruals are expected.

Existence and Location of Copies

A digitized version is available. For more information contact us.
Guide to the Hermann Oberth Letter to Rudolf Nebel
Completed - Level 1
Description rules
Language of description
Edition statement
1st edition

Repository Details

Part of the The Museum of Flight Archives Repository

9404 East Marginal Way South
Seattle Washington 98108-4097

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