In 1928, the Ohio-born inventor Robert Condit wanted to make a pioneering flight
like Charles Lindberg the year before. But instead of traveling around a portion of the earth, he wanted to leave it entirely. Destination: Venus. Condit had built a rocket of sorts, and planned to launch from Florida in March
, but postponed due to imperfect atmospheric conditions. Between then and August, he made his way to Baltmore, where he worked with the brothers Sterling and Harry B. Uhler to make or modify his space craft. Harry remembered their efforts well, recounting the events leading up to an actual attempt to launch the craft
(PDF with photos
), made of varnished sailcloth, wrapped around a structure of angle iron ribs, bolted into shape.
They had latched onto the rocket craze, of which Fritz von Opel
was a prominent proponent. "Rocket Fritz" had successfully tested solid-fuel rocket-powered cars
in March and May of 1928, with the second test car
(German narration) reaching a speed of 230 km/h (143 mph). Von Opel made some versions of a rocket-boosted train, though these did not fare well, but the later rocket-powered glider was a moderate success
(German narration). More on Von Opel rocketry
, with English narration.
Condit and the Uhler brothers had big ideas, but not a whole lot of planning. Though their rocket design looked impressive
(scroll down to "Venus Rocket"), their knowledge of space travel was limited, and their understanding of Venus was far from adequate, much like the rest of the world. A few years earlier, Robert Goddard
had published a theoretical treatise, A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes
(PDF), which was mocked in an editorial of the New York Times
(but a "correction" was posted three days before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon), and Goddard "refuted some popular fallacies"
, seen there in a Google books view of the Scientific American article. Goddard had also built the world's first liquid-fueled rocket
, which could have been some vague inspiration for the gasoline-fueled craft built by Condit and the brothers Uhler.
As for Venus, the planet was assumed to be earth-like, due to it's size and orbital radius being similar to earth
. It wasn't until the 1958 study of Venus by microwave
, which indicated that the planet was up to 600 K, contrary to science fiction of the time
, which was based on optical observations of Venus
. Still, Condit's dream sparked the imagination
, seen there in a scan and transcription of a two-page spread in Modern Mechanics.
After the failure of the Baltimore launch, Harry B. Uhler wrote
That test firing showed us we couldn't get a ship into space without helping it along with a booster rocket, and we estimated that would cost another $10,000 at least. So we gave it up. Our wives were against the whole deal, anyway.
Condit came back in a few weeks, loaded the rocket on a truck, and hauled it off to Florida. I never saw him again, but I expect he did real well for himself somewhere. He was a mathematical genius.
According to the grandson of Robert Condit's brother, after gathering investors money, Condit blasted off in a stolen mail truck to California.
There, his internet trail seems to fade out.
If all this gets you dreaming for the stars, you can start by reading It's ONLY Rocket Science: An Introduction in Plain English
(Google books preview), from Dr. Lucy Rogers