Paper models, photos and musings of a Paper Kosmonaut

17 December 2011

Frau im Mond

One of the most interesting SF-movies before the birth of the A4/V-2 must be Fritz Lang's "Frau Im Mond" (1929). Besides a somewhat cheesy and melodramatic love story (and some very poetic license by giving the moon a breathable atmosphere) it clearly depicts how scientists thought a real launch of a real manned rocket would take place.
Fritz Lang wanted realism so badly, he even hired über-rocketscientist Hermann Oberth to get everything about the rocket right. For the film Oberth designed the H.32 - a realistic probe rocket, and a large two-staged monster, a silver and black bullet shaped projectile, with four large square hollow stabilization fins. The rocket, that was given the name of "Friede" (Peace - and the name of the female protagonist). Oberth provided the floor with numerous footholds for when weightlessness would kick in. Even the positions of the couches (more like military style stretchers suspended on springs) were quite well-envisioned. The instrument panel was a bit odd-placed, between the two pilot's couches, facing away from them., but full of interesting and realistically looking gauges and meters.
Mondschiff "Friede".
photo: © Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung / Eureka
more after the break -
The launch sequence is chillingly realistic too, even in these days. Oberth and Lang made a scene that, almost 40 years before it actually happened, resembles the launch of Apollo 11 in a lot of ways. But in some ways he also predicted the Russian way of launching.
Oberth realized the rocket was not able to carry its on weight, those four stabilisators  were just for aerodynamic purposes. So he suspended his moonship on four big cranes positioned at the four ends of a square movable launch platform. This platform was rolled out of a giant construction hall, much like the VAB at KSC.
"Friede" leaving the assembly hall, hanging by four cranes.
photo: © Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung / Eureka
It held still over a deep basin of water in which the rocket was lowered so the stabilization legs could carry the rocket. This was the only thing Oberth didn't get right, even though launches from under water would become commonplace later, albeit from submarines.
Water however, did get involved in U.S. launches in great quantities, not to launch in, but to dampen the shock- and soundwaves when the rocket lifts off.

© Popular Mechanics
The launch platform suspension method Oberth envisioned for "Friede" reminds me a bit of the way the R7 is hanging by its "shoulders" onto the launch platform. The four arms just hold the rocket in its place due to its weight. When the thrust exceeds its weight, the rocket lifts out of the clamps that fold away like flower petals.
The Soyuz hangs on to these four arms by its "shoulders". The weight of the rocket keeps the arms firmly against the hull. The part on the foreground right is the swung-down service structure. The mast in the background holds the fuel lines and electric cables.
Photo: © NASA
Lang included a countdown in the movie, something he used to increase the suspension to a maximum, and something the Americans put to use, too. The Russians just called out commands to swing back the fuel line arm, the command to start the engines and then it still lasts ten seconds before the Soyuz lifts off the pad. Much less exciting but on the other hand, while in Florida the distance to the launch pad is about five miles, in Kazachstan you were able to get very near the pad as a spectator,  which makes it very spectacular indeed.

All in all, the movie showed a very realistic rocket and launch sequence. A few years later, after the Nazi's came to power, the german military considered the film too real and confiscated the movie and its drawings in 1937 as a military secret.

Oberth, on his turn, took no further responsablilty for the scientific credibility of the project when he found out Lang wanted the occupants of "Friede" to walk around on the moon without a space suit. Lang, of course wanted this so he would be able to show his actors better.
Oberth in a later stage of his life, inspecting a replica of his famous "Kegeldüse".
photo ©: unknown.
Oberth continued his research in rocketry, and eventually gathered a large group of enthusiastic followers. Amongst them one certain Wernher von Braun. They started launching small liquid fueled rockets from an abandoned shooting range outside Berlin they called the "Raketenflugplatz".  When the project was taken over by the military, Oberth left Germany and lived in the United States during the Second World War. After the war, he returned to Germany but often went back to the U.S. to work on rocket projects and attend launches. He died in 1989.

Even more than 80 years on, the movie gives an interesting look on how scientists foresaw a rocket launch. Ralph Currell made a 1/144 model of "Friede" and because I momentarily am on a roll with SF rockets, I decided I'd do this one, too. In 1/96th. More soon.
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