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A Technical Tale
by Dr. Wernher von Braun
A Technical Tale
by Dr. Wernher von Braun
English translation by
Henry 1 White, Lt. Cdr. USN
Project Mors - A Technical Tale
A fiery chariot, borne on buoyant pinions,
Sweeps near me now! I soon shall ready be
To pierce the ether's high, unknown dominions,
To reach new spheres of pure activity!
This godlike rapture, this supreme existence,
Do I, but now a worm, deserve to track?
Yes, resolute to reach some brighter distance,
On Earth's fair Sun I turn my back!
Yes, let me dare those gates to fling asunder,
Which every man would fain go slinking by!
T is time, through deeds this word of truth to thunder:
That with the height of Gods Man's dignity may vie!
— Hohann Wolfgang von Goethe, "Faust."
Dr. UUernher von Sroun
Mankind's love affair with the planet Mars is certainly not new. " n a s l° n g been
recognized that Mars is the planet in our solar system most capable of supporting life.
Until the 1970s, the existence of life on Mars remained an open question. We know today
that there are no civilizations on Mars, but in 1949, when this story was written, the
possibility had not yet been ruled out. In this story by Wernher von Braun, Mars has an
underground civilization which is more or less on par with our own. And it is a peaceful
civilization, neither bent on conquest nor paranoid about being attacked. In this story of
man's first human mission to Mars, ten space ships make the journey. Upwards of 1,000
flights into Earth's orbit are required to build, supply and fuel these ten ships, and it is an
international, cooperative project. In short, the undertaking is on a scale that would never
happen in the real world. We tend to stick our toes in the water first, before diving in.
But neither of these issues takes anything away from the story. In fact, they add to its
larger-than-life-adventure quality. All other aspects of the story are very realistic. The
characters think and feel like real people; the science and rocket technology are accurate
and are consistent with what is being used today; the mission timeline exactly matches
reality; and so on. The mission plan does not include staying to colonize or setting up a
Martian base, which, again, is realistic for a first mission, von Braun went to great lengths
preparing the plot for this story. The calculations and technical drawings that he developed
for a Mars mission, and on which he then based this story, are included in the 65-page
appendix of this book.
The writing style of Project MARS is typical of an adventure story written in the
1940s. The translation from German to English and the publisher's editing have both
retained the original styling, faithfully reproducing what von Braun created. What we have
here is a genuine adventure story, created without the aid of special effects or sophisticated
electronics. In contrast with much of what is written today, this story is highlighted by
love and adventure, instead of sex and violence.
This is quite simply a story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Where
Project MARS differs from most fiction of the mid-20th century is in its multiple main
characters. Typical science fiction of that era involved one main character (perhaps with a
side-kick) who beats the odds, saves the world, and gets the girl, pretty much all by
himself. In von Braun's story there are many characters who make essential contributions,
and the story will center for a time on each of them. This may be a throwback to von
Braun's stated fascination with the works of Kurd Lasswitz, the father of German science
fiction, whose book "On Two Planets" featured a host of characters, all contributing to the
plot but with individual roles. This is also consistent with how the real world works many people working together to accomplish what must be done; each affecting and being
affected by the others. It's no accident that contemporary fiction predominantly relies on
this "multiple protagonist" style.
You will find no ravaging monsters, terrorists or killing machines in this story; there
is danger without a "dark side," and challenge without threat, just like the real world.
However, it does differ from a "real" space mission in that there are no interfering
politicians, lobby groups, trade unions, etc., repeatedly redefining the mission's goals,
driving the cost up and the schedule out. . .
Project Mars - A Technical Tale
As much as Project MARS is entertainment, it can also be seen as a proposal - for
international cooperation in a human mission to Mars. Von Braun clearly believed this was
possible (this story takes place in the 1980s) and went to great lengths to prove as much,
both in his professional life and in his writing. When this story was written, in 1949, a
manned mission to Mars was considered fantasy by the man in the street, but today very
few people would deny it was possible. The reasons that we haven't done it are economic,
There are minor social matters in the story that might be different from what would
happen if this mission were flown today - such as the all-male crew - but they don't
detract in any way from either the story or the idea of a manned mission to Mars. There
are no miracle technologies or leaps of faith required to make this story believable, just a
willingness to be entertained.
In this never-before-printed science fiction novel, Wernher von Braun, combines
technical fact with a human story line in the way that only a true dreamer can realize.
Dr. Wernher von Broun
There are few dreams of the future which have woven so fascinating a web around
human fantasy as flight through space. Since the first, epoch-making experiments of the
great American pioneer of rocketry, Robert Goddard; since the days when Hermann
Oberth, the German, and the Russian Constantin Eduardovitch Ziolkowsky published
their startling writings on rocket propulsion, a veritable spate of literature has
overwhelmed the public. This has covered the entire field ranging from serious, scientific
dissertations to comic strips.
This literature is so voluminous as to render it difficult for even an engineer to sift the
actual interplanetary premises of rocketry from idle conjecture, for in many minds there
is a strong tendency to identify rocketry with space travel.
In the meantime, rocketry has become a recognized part of the science of armament
and this tends to darken the glass through which one peers into its future. Much
development has taken place since the first crude experiments of the path-finding pioneers,
and much of this has been hidden from the public view for reasons of military security.
The object of this book is to assist the eye of the public to penetrate the thicket of
confusion in which the future of rocket power now lies hidden. The following pages
present a sketch of inter-planetary travel as visualized by one who for more than two
decades has tumbled along the thorny path leading to the development of large rockets.
The author has had his full share of bitter disappointments, nor does he underestimate the
height and ruggedness of the barriers to be conquered before the first manned rocket shall
be projected into illimitable space.
Despite our justified preoccupation with the problems of today, we must not neglect
those of the morrow. It is the vision of tomorrow which breeds the power of action.
Thousands of scientists and engineers are laboring constantly to perfect our knowledge of
rocketry and rocket propulsion, and millions of dollars are spent yearly to advance such
research. What the results will be is beyond the public ken, but they will surely exert a
vital influence upon the future of the entire Earth and well beyond its present confines.
Tens of thousands of young lads live their inner lives in dreams of a rocket-powered world.
They envisage themselves circumnavigating the Earth in space ships, landing on the Moon
and conversing on terms of familiarity with the inhabitants of Mars. The ease with which
their comic strip heroes perform such feats leaves them no doubt that the actual reality lies
not far away.
The author strongly feels that not only these boys but the public in general is entitled
to know just how far and in what direction the science of rocketry now points and what
the practical possibilities may be.
I have used an unpretentious tale as a frame in which to paint the picture. The idea
has been therewith to beguile the tedium which might be caused by the relative dryness of
disquisitions concerning each problem in detail. The sum of these problems represents the
barrier which as yet stands between us and our voyages into space. Nonetheless, all the
mathematical data in the text are, without exception, the results of careful computations
or tested scientific observations. This likewise applies to the assumptions as to the
physical nature of the planet Mars, except for its canals and inhabitants. The subject of
the latter is as controversial today as it was thirty years ago.
Project Mors - A Technical Tale
Errors may possibly have crept into my preparatory work for this book - it is my
dearest hope that they may be but few. To him or her who may discover them will go my
heartiest thanks, for every improvement will but serve to delineate more clearly our
projected outline of future space travel. Truthfully, to project such an outline is the task
of this book. My scientifically inclined readers will find in the appendix a certain amount
of source material as well as the basic computations.
Putting the project in simple, narrative form permits me to outline the scientific,
financial and organizational efforts which will be necessary before space travel can
actually be brought into being. Few rocket enthusiasts have any idea of the inevitable
scope of these efforts, nor are they mentioned in either scientific dissertations or in fiction.
The space ship will, I am confident, never emerge full-fledged from the mind of any
solitary inventor who has constructed it with the help of a faithful assistant in his back
yard. Only by the joint effort of thousands of engineers and scientists in a wide variety of
fields can it become a reality. The list of these fields is almost all-inclusive, extending as
it does from astronomy through medicine, safety, radio, mathematics, chemistry, physics,
aviation, metallurgy, production engineering, and a host of others. To back up the
technical development, there will be required farsighted industrialists, open-minded
military men and daring financiers.
Part of the object of this book is to stimulate interest in space travel throughout these
and even wider circles, for many readers will discover that their professions or trades have
hitherto unsuspected applications to it. Not a few such readers will find themselves filling
in details at which I have here not more that hinted.
Space travel's prime objective in the minds of its serious protagonists is to benefit
mankind by extending his sphere of activity. It is with some regret that such protagonists
find that wherever large rockets are tested today, it is done with military objectives. But
rocketry, like aviation and atomic energy, has enormous military significance aside from
its more noble and constructive task.
The stage setting for my narrative, therefore, is an Earth united after a final global
conflict, in which are portrayed some of the terrifying aspects of future military rocketry.
These aspects are inevitable concomitants of the finer phase, and I hope that they will not
give offense. The military potentialities of the rocket are open to any technically-minded
nation prepared to shoulder the burden of development. There's no mystery about it; it
involves mainly a scaling up of existing designs. As far back as 1912 it was possible to
accurately compute the requirements as to size, fuel and horsepower for transatlantic
aircraft. It was many years, however, before the development work to put them into
service could be completed.
It is therefore my desire that the reader should not remain ignorant of the tremendous
impact on military science of the field of rocketry. My most earnest hope is that the world
may be spared another conflict, but if such a conflict should be inevitable, as appears at
times, I want the homeland of my free choice, America, to hold the weapon of rocketry
against her adversaries, whoever they may be.
Dr. UUernher von Braun
With the utmost care I have avoided delving into the realms of fantasy in describing
physical conditions or phenomena encountered on the trip to Mars, nor have any
assumptions based solely upon vague theories been used. No "miracle chest" from which
the presiding genius produces at will "death rays" or "cosmic energy" will be found
aboard my space ships. This is in contrast to so many science fiction stories which rely
for their plausibility upon mysterious knowledge springing from the brains of some
intellectual superman. My ships are propelled by compounds well known to the chemical
fraternity. They are constructed of familiar materials. Even their equipment is built up
around presently familiar methods and procedures. In other words, they are but a
projection, an extrapolation, a natural development of a still youthful but solidly
For like reasons, my space ships are not atomic-powered on their trip to Mars. In the
face of the considerable quantities of propellants required for space travel when using
chemical fuels, it has become a custom for many quasi-scientific writers to promise future
atomic fuels which can do the trick better. The nature of these mysterious fuels is tacitly
bypassed or conveniently cloaked by vague hints at "military security."
The controlling of nuclear energies is but a recent achievement in physics and
technology. It may still conceal a number of future surprises and I have no desire nor
intention of decrying the eventual application of this source of power to navigation of
interstellar space. When referring to technological advances, the word "impossible" must be
used, if at all, with utmost caution... But I should like to state here that, within the framework
of our present knowledge, atomic rocket fuels belong in the realm of wishful thinking.
The second part of our story lands us on the reddish surface of our neighbour Mars,
thus completing the technical mission. From this point on, the solid, scientific platform
upon which we have stood sinks beneath our feet and we tread upon the fairy bridge of
fantasy, via which - and via which alone - the author has visited Mars. In his reluctant
attempt to portray the conditions which faced the crews of the space ships, he was
reminded that the fine Italian hand of Dante apparently did not tremble when penning a
most detailed description of the Inferno; and yet Dante probably had not nearly as much
infernal scientific data upon which to base his descriptions as the author has Martian data.
Encouraged by this classical precedent, the author swallowed his scruples and passed the
"Point of no Return."
And so he has portrayed the Martians as age-weary from super-civilization, thus
affording him the opportunity to speculate contemplatively about the future of our own
youthful, technology-ridden culture. For certain of our readers who may have gagged on
the mass of technical detail upon which they fed during the long voyage through space,
this part of the story may offer opportunities for ruminative philosophical reflection.
— Wernher von Braun, Fort Bliss, Texas, 1950
Project Mars - Fl Technical Tole
Table of Contents
1 Plans or Dreams?
2 A Flight to Lunetta
3 Interstellar Stop-Off
4 Let's talk about Mars
5 The Sirius Returns
6 Is it Technically Possible to Reach Mars?
7 What of Life on Other Planets?
8 The Mission of Space Travel
9 Headaches of a Space Ship Designer
10 How an Army of Technicians Works
11 The Cosmic Rays
12 The Great Space Lift
13 Incidents and Adventures
14 Farewell to Earth
15 Killing Time Between the Worlds
16 Interplanetary Radio
17 A Nasty Little Aster
18 The Aldebaran calls "Mayday"
19 The Approach Path to Mars
20 The Red Planet Bares His Secrets
21 Down to Mars
22 A Grayish Mass
24 How Mars is Governed
25 How the Martians Live
26 All Hands Ashore on Mars
27 Body Repair and Brain Filling Stations
28 The Machinery of a Super-Civilization
29 The Expedition Bears Fruit
30 The Sage of Laromi
31 Immortal Man