Noordung, Herman (1892–1929)
Herman Noordung was the pseudonym of Herman Potocnik, a relatively obscure officer in the Austrian
Imperial Army who became an engineer and, encouraged by Hermann Oberth,
published in 1928 a seminal book Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums (The Problem of Space Travel: The Rocket Motor)1,2 that focuses
largely on the engineering aspects of space
stations. In it, Noordung deals with issues such as of weightlessness,
space communications, maintaining a habitable environment for the crew,
and extravehicular activity. Noordung's proposed design consists of a 100-foot-diameter,
doughnut-shaped structure for living quarters with an air-lock at its hub,
a power-generating station attached to one end of the central hub, and an
astronomical observation station. He was among the first to suggest a wheel-shaped
design for a space station to produce artificial
gravity, and also argued the scientific value of such a station in a
synchronous orbit above Earth.
The Sun would provide electric power, though not with solar cells, which
had not yet been conceived. Instead, a large parabolic mirror would focus
sunlight onto boiler pipes in a type of steam engine. For more power, a
trough of mirrors would run around the station's periphery concentrating
solar energy on another system of pipes. Like a flower, the station would
face the Sun.
Except for being two and a half times larger, Wernher von
Braun's Collier's space station (see Collier's
space program) closely resembled that of Potocnik and it is tempting
to view von Braun as the latter's apt pupil. He certainly had the opportunity
to read Potocnik's book (though published initially in its author's native
language of Slovenian, it appeared quickly in German translation). Moreover,
von Braun's concept included a circumferential trough of solar mirrors for
power. This, however, came not from Potocnik but rather from a suggestion
of Fred Whipple (who had not read Potocnik's book), and, thus, represented
an independent invention. The influence of Potocnik on von Braun may have
been only indirect. The historian John Hunley, who prepared an English translation
of Potocnik's book, describes its influence on Von Braun as "probable but
speculative." Nevertheless, he states unequivocally that "Potocnik's book
was widely known even to people who may have seen only photographs of sections
from the book in translation." His concept of a large rotating wheel was
sufficiently simple to permit Von Braun and others to carry it in their
heads for decades, developing this concept with fresh details when using
it as the point of reference for an original design. (This paragraph was
adapted from NASA SP-4221, ch.1).
| Noordung's space station concept of 1929. K is the electric cable to an external observatory; S is the airlock; Kondensatorrohre are
condenser pipes; Verdamfungsrohr is a boiler pipe; Treppenschacht is a stairwell; Augzugschacht is an elevator shaft.
- Noordung, H. Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums (The Problem
of Space Flight). Berlin: Schmidt and Co., 1928.
- Noordung, Hermann. The Problem of Space Travel: The Rocket Motor.
Edited by Ernst Stuhlinger and J. D. Hunley with Jennifer Garland. Washington,
D.D.: Government Printing Office, NASA SP-4026 (1995).
ENGINEERS AND SPACE SCIENTISTS