1. JFDee

    JFDee Senior Member

    In both moon landing hoax and flat earth context, a quote from Wernher von Braun (leader of the Apollo program) is used by believers. The claim is that he allegedly confirmed that it is impossible for a rocket to leave the earth at all.

    Source: https://twitter.com/rokro11/status/1009157353940414464

    This is the quote as text - it's supposedly from the 1953 book called "Conquest of the Moon" (Wernher von Braun, Fred L. Whipple, Willy Ley):
    [Note that the actual text is unconfirmed. I have just ordered a used copy of this book and will confirm the quote later.]

    However, the quoted passage itself and the available reviews of the book are sufficient to debunk the claim.
    1. The most obvious objection to the interpretation in the tweet is that the impossibility involved is defined as economic. It doesn't say anything about a fundamental impossibility.
    2. The specification of a direct flight from earth to moon leaves open the consideration of alternative approaches. That is in fact one of the main issues discussed in the book, according to the available reviews.

    There was a review of the book by Heinz Haber in The Saturday Review, January 1954 (facsimile available). It outlines what the book is about:
    The alternative to the "direct flight" is given as the construction and launch of the moon crafts in orbit, in the vicinity of an orbital space station.

    The calculations of the necessary amount of propulsion for a direct moon flight - deemed economically impossible - was based on the considerable size of the expedition: 50 people for six weeks on the moon, including a 'tank' for moving around and the construction of an underground base there.

    In any case, this is obviously not the alleged admission of space travel being impossible from an engineering point of view.

    Follow-up edit:

    I have received my copy of "Conquest of the Moon". It's a bit smelly but in very good condition.
    Here is my scan of the respective page:

    The quote is accurate, however when put in context with the whole page, the debunk is confirmed.
    The next paragraph after the one with the quote says:
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2018
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  2. deirdre

    deirdre Moderator Staff Member

    yes, it seems to me perhaps he is arguing for his space station. I found this link

    The Collier magazine articles are online in full color, they are pretty cool.

    I'm just reading the March 1952 issue now
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  3. deirdre

    deirdre Moderator Staff Member

  4. His statement is very clearly referring to a massive, single stage rocket capable of direct ascent from both the Earth and Moon, which was definitely in line with the general pop culture idea of what a lunar mission would be like. Such a vehicle might actually be impossible, for non-economic reasons, as there are some fun engineering problems that might be unsolvable (like the shockwave from ignition reflecting back with enough force to destroy the vehicle). But, we just circle back to his original point: Regular Guy on the Street has an idea from the movies that a man like von Braun must dispel when arguing his case for an orbital station, Kondratyuk's lunar orbit rendezvous concept, or even just multi-stage vehicles. It confuses me how anyone could interpret that sentence to mean "all rockets."
  5. deirdre

    deirdre Moderator Staff Member

    It might be clear to spaceship geeks, who know the pre-Apollo space history. But I never knew Rockets were ever single stage. I also never knew they wanted to send 50 scientists up for 6 weeks to study the moon, which is why I looked into this, because I found that quote in the OP completely unbelievable.
  6. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    The V-2 was single stage, and something von Braun was largely responsible for. The V-2 was used by the US after the war as a sounding rocket, and took the first photo from space (65 miles up). So he would have been thinking of that type of thing.
  7. Hevach

    Hevach Senior Member

    "Direct" is ambiguous in and of itself. Most of the acceleration of the Apollo spacecraft was parallel to the surface of either body, they didn't fly straight up aiming at the moon.

    And either way, he was right: The Saturn V was a rocket of mind boggling proportions, and required technologies that von Braun had not yet conceived of to accomplish, and which some leading rocket scientists questioned the viability of even while it was being built.

    It's hard to imagine just how unprecedented the Saturn V was. When it launched, it was five times more powerful than the second biggest rocket ever launched, and the margin was even bigger if you limit that to its own direct predecessors. And to this day, no rocket with a track record can lift a quarter of what it could - the Energia and N1 were close but both were failures, the Falcon Heavy has had one test flight and is still barely half the capacity. The SLS will still fall short in its ultimate form (but is meant for a program similar to the one described in the articles above - fleet launched with a mix of orbital and in situ assembly), and the BFR will only match it in a configuration that might never actually be used.
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2018
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  8. deirdre

    deirdre Moderator Staff Member

  9. Whitebeard

    Whitebeard Senior Member

    Cos it's still the biggest thing yet built rocket wise.

  10. deirdre

    deirdre Moderator Staff Member

    silly. :) I meant why don't they build rockets now that can carry more of a payload? They don't need payloads that big anymore?
  11. Whitebeard

    Whitebeard Senior Member

    Maybe cos technology has advanced to the point where it's cheaper, more cost effective and less risky to launch a number of smaller payloads and assenble stuff in orbit, rather than blasting things up in one big lump?
  12. Z.W. Wolf

    Z.W. Wolf Senior Member

    Quick history:

    Von Braun's dream concept in the '50's before NASA founding - Assemble a space station in low Earth orbit. Then use crew to build dedicated single stage moonship in orbit, which would land on Moon and ascend from Moon. Jettison fuel tanks at times.

    When the Apollo spacecraft feasibility study was conducted by NASA, starting in July 1960, the Space Task Group considered two pre-existing concepts for the "mode" ...

    - Direct assent. Massive multistage rocket called "Nova." This would skip space station phase and lift the dedicated moonship.

    - Earth orbit rendezvous; Von Braun's updated concept. Two smaller (but still large) multistage rockets. One would lift the dedicated moonship, without any fuel in its tanks. The second would lift the fuel in an unmanned tanker. These two ships would rendezvous in low Earth orbit, the fuel would be transferred to the dedicated moonship, and the tanker would be left behind.

    Then, an obscure guy, John Houbolt, who remains obscure to this day, came in from the outside world and lobbied for his "mode." Lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR). There is no dedicated moonship. Instead there is a command module and a lunar module (LM). The LM is ultralight, leaves much of itself behind on the Moon, and the rest gets left behind after lunar orbit rendezvous with the command module. There's a big savings in structural and fuel weight. Now you have the single multistage Saturn V, gigantic, but much smaller than Nova. Von Braun was skeptical at first, then supported the concept. Houbolt was never a part of the STG.

    Side note: My father worked at Rocketdyne from the 50's until 1967, then transferred to another division of North American. He was Bill Kaysing's boss, and told me stories about krazy Kaysing when I was a teenager. I can clear up a couple of Bill Kaysing myths. Kaysing was not the Head of Publications at Rocketdyne. He was the librarian at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory - the test site. He was the only Publications employee at the SSFL. So in a sense he was the head of the division... at the site. Kaysing was not fired, he resigned because he had a dream of becoming a writer of travel books; and he was modestly successful. Later he became the first Apollo Hoax theory guy, in case you don't recognize the name. My father was unaware of that until I told him about it in the early 90's.
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2018
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  13. MikeC

    MikeC Closed Account

    Here's the wiki page on the Nova rocket, and a size comparison - not much taller than the Saturn 5, but 1 extra stage with considerably larger diameter fuel tanks for the 1st 2 stages:

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  14. Hevach

    Hevach Senior Member

    The US manned space program imploded, and Russia was never as serious about the moon (and the N1's failure killed it to boot), instead going for a space station program that never required such large rockets. Skylab used a Saturn V, but it was somewhat jury rigged compared to its Russian counterparts, as it was just the translunar stage if a Saturn V hollowed out. It didn't need the Saturn Vs power to launch, but wouldn't fit on anything smaller.

    An Orion-based lunar mission would require far beyond the Saturn Vs power to launch, and would be done with two SLS launches. Similar if a Dragon-based mission were mounted, several Falcon Heavy or BFR launches. Existing Mars proposals call for fleet launches using SLS or BFR, I've seen ideas as low as three launches and as high as ten.

    Edit: also, unmanned probes are generally orders of magnitude lighter than manned craft, so require far smaller launchers, and modern space stations are closer to the Russian model than Skylab, so they require multiple light launchers rather than a single heavy lifter (the Chinese stations are closer to Skylab, but aren't launch date with the excess capacity Skylab was - the Long March rockets are about a quarter the power of the Saturn V and are enough to launch single piece stations).
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2018
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  15. Rory

    Rory Senior Member

    Hergé's Tintin adventures 'Destination Moon' (1950) and 'Explorers on the Moon' (1952) spring to mind:


    The rocket in that was single-stage; spacious; and flew direct - yet was believed at the time to be quite realistic:
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  16. deirdre

    deirdre Moderator Staff Member

    I love the doggie suit :)
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  17. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    it's also like a larger version of von Braun's V-2, which defined the style of rockets in the 1950s.
  18. In addition to what Hevach has pointed out, the main limit, at this point, isn't building powerful enough engines to lift mass, but the fairing size. There's a lot of grief in the industry right now about just how wide we can actually make a rocket. We're caught in a loop of "there's no fairings bigger than 5.2 meters" "why not" "because no one wants to launch anything that big" "why not" "because there's no fairings bigger than 5.2 meters." When you're putting an upper limit on the physical bounds of your available vehicle catalog, you start thinking "we'll launch this thing in segments" when approached with something complex like a space station or a Mars transit hab and then the idea of eating the cost on a potentially single use ever system for a monolithic launch is the stuff of your nightmares.
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  19. Whitebeard

    Whitebeard Senior Member

    For completeness I feel I should mention the British moon program, a bit more low tech and low budget...

    ...but it worked

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  20. Efftup

    Efftup Senior Member

    AND it looks like a V2.
  21. Rory

    Rory Senior Member

    Have you ever read Tintin? Snowy's awesome. I love when he gets drunk on whiskey.

  22. DasKleineTeilchen

    DasKleineTeilchen Active Member

    especially "explorers" is and will be forever one of my favourite comics, not only because its one of the best tintin ones, but its one of the best in general, a true classic; the artwork as a whole and the moon-landscapes in particular are beautiful drawn, with a surrealistic vibe in their realism and just a joy to look at them.

    sidenote: odd enough, 1950 was the year george pals movie "destination moon" came out, also a classic on its own and with a kinda simmilar storyline, even plotpoints, as the two comics from herge and the film both are using the same technology and a somewhat similar design for their rockets (the now familiar "enhanced" V2);


    There was quite a discussion of who was inspired by whom here o_O
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2018
  23. Mauro

    Mauro New Member

    Just as a curiosity: Urania is an Italian periodic SF magazine which has been published without interruption since 1952. This is the last cover I found featuring a 'V-2 like' rocket, on the December, 6 1959 #218 issue:


    Less than one month later we get the first clearly identifiable multi-stage rocket (#220, January 2, 1960):


    The covers can be found on


    I just gave a quick glance so feel free to correct me.

    Edit: hmm I copy/pasted the images as per 'how to' instructions but I see a 'broken external image' tag. I don't know why.. at least the links are working. Sorry :( Edit: thanks to Rory, I found a way to fix that.
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2018
  24. JFDee

    JFDee Senior Member

    As announced, I have bought the actual book "Conquest of the Moon", in the 1953 edition.

    Not strictly on topic but for your pleasure I provide the cover page illustrations from a scan with decent resolution.

    Innocent times ...
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 28, 2018
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