Conrad Haas: The 16th Century Rocket Pioneer

Mar 9, 2021 0 comments

In 1961, a professor at the University of Bucharest, made a surprising discovery in the archives of the city of Sibiu, in Romania. It was a manuscript around 450 pages long filled with drawings and technical data on artillery, ballistics and detailed descriptions of multistage rockets. What’s fascinating about the discovery was that the documents were created in the mid-16th century—four hundred years before the first practical multi-stage rocket took flight from the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico shortly after the end of World War 2. The creator of the document was a remarkable Austrian military engineer named Conrad Haas.

An illustration from Haas’s manuscript showing the tools and techniques of rocket making.

Conrad Haas was born in 1509 in Dornbach, now part of Vienna, to a German family from Bavaria. At the age of twenty, Haas moved to Transylvania, which was then part of the Austrian Empire, and began serving under the Imperial Habsburg army of King Ferdinand I. In 1551, Haas was invited by Stephen B├íthory, the grand prince of Transylvania, to Hermannstadt (now Sibiu, Romania), where he became the commander of the artillery barracks and a weapons engineer. While serving under the Prince, Haas began writing what is now believed to be the earliest known European handbook of rocketry. This work, written in German, whose title translates to “How You Must Make Quite a Nice Rocket That Can Travel (Propel) Itself into the Heights (Heavens),” dealt with pioneering weapons technology including the principle of multistage rockets, preliminary designs for delta-shaped fins and bell-shaped nozzles, as well as different fuel mixtures using liquid fuel.

Haas’s illustrations of a multistage rocket.

Before the discovery of Haas's work in 1961, the first description of multistage rocket was attributed to Kazimierz Siemienowicz , a Polish artillery specialist, who published it in his 1650 treatise Artis Magnae Artilleriae Pars Prima. Siemienowicz’s book is illustrated with 23 copperplate illustrations of extremely high quality, for the time, showing a painstaking attention to detail. Many of the illustrations are suspiciously similar to those of Haas, including the multistage rocket, delta fins, etc., which makes one wonder whether Siemienowicz was simply replicating Haas’s work and passing it as his own, or were the two men inspired by an even earlier work by an unknown ancestor.

Siemienowicz’s illustrations showing multistage and bundled rockets.

Both Haas’s and Siemienowicz’s description and illustrations of the techniques of rocket construction are detailed. For example, both describe a cylindrical thrust chamber filled with a powder propellant, with a conical hole to progressively increase the combustion area and consequently the thrust. This design is still used in modern rockets. The rockets also sport a very modern nozzle with a bell-shaped divergence zone. However, both designs lack any means of stabilizing the rocket's flight, either by using a stick or delta fins, indicating that the staged combustion design was meant to be a crude concept rather than an actual construction manual.

Although Conrad Haas designed weapons that were supposed to kill, he was a humanist at heart. In the last paragraph of his chapter on the military use of rockets, he wrote:

But my advice is more peace and no war, the rifles are left under the roof, the bullet is not fired, the powder is not burned wet, so the prince kept his money , the gunsmith his life; that's the advice so Conrad Haas does give.

# Alexandru Todericiu, Radu D. Rugescu and Istvan Lorincz, Relevant Analysis of the Innovative Conrad Haas Manuscript from 1555, History of Rocketry and Astronautics


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