Romanian Postage stamp design 1989 with Conrad Hass, Austrian military engineer with an early rocket design.

Conrad Haas’ Flying Javelin: Yes, It Is 16th Century Rocket Science

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Conrad Haas was a military engineer who lived during the 16 th century. Not much is known for certain about Haas’ life, in fact, he was largely forgotten by history. But this changed in 1961, when a scholar came across an old manuscript that dealt with the subject of artillery and ballistics from the 16 th century. It was in the third part of this document that Haas’ writings were found. In it, the military engineer describes something that he called a ‘flying javelin’, which is surprisingly similar to the multistage rockets that are used today. Therefore, Haas’ name was resurrected from the depths of history, and he became known as the man who pioneered rocket propulsion.

Backstory to the Invention

During the 16 th century, one of the major events that broke out in Europe was the Protestant Reformation. This resulted in the division of Europe between Catholics and Protestants, and on its heels religious war and persecution followed. Further to the east, the Ottoman Empire was enjoying a period of expansion, and even succeeded in reaching the gates of Vienna under Suleiman the Magnificent in 1529. It was at the beginning of this tumultuous century that Conrad Haas was born.

Haas is said to have been born in Dornbach, a village in Hernals, a modern district in Vienna, Austria. Haas is recorded to have served as a military engineer and arsenal master of the Imperial Austrian army under the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I. It has been speculated that Haas arrived in Sibiu (which was then known as Hermannstadt), a city in the Principality of Transylvania (now part of Romania), with Imperial troops in his capacity as an officer in the Imperial Austrian army. In Sibiu, Haas served as the chief of the artillery camp of the city’s arsenal. Haas remained in Sibiu for the rest of his life, and died there in 1579.

Description of a rocket by Conrad Haas, a German master gunner.

Description of a rocket by Conrad Haas, a German master gunner. ( Public Domain )

Sibiu Manuscript

Haas was then lost to history, and only re-discovered in 1961, by Doru Todericiu, a Romanian writer, historian, researcher. Todericiu had been studying a manuscript discovered in the State Archives of Sibiu, which, at that point of time, had yet to be comprehensively researched. This document, which was written in German, contains 450 pages, and came to be known as the Sibiu Manuscript. This piece of writing dealt with the subject of 16 th century artillery and ballistics, especially with the topic of rocket technology, which involved a combination of two other technologies – fireworks and weapons. Haas’ very own invention can be found in the third part of the manuscript.

Haas’ Big Contribution to Ballistics

Haas’ innovation was called the ‘flying javelin’, which resembles a modern multistage rocket. Haas provides illustrations to show the design of his device, and also a written description of it. The text shows that a variety of issues about the design were discussed by Haas. Amongst other things, the military engineer described the working principle of his ‘flying javelin’ (the first known description of a multistage rocket), the use of delta-shaped fins and bell-shaped nozzles, and the combination of different fuel mixtures based on liquid fuels.

Dr Robert H Goddard and the first liquid-fueled rocket at Auburn, Massachusetts, 1926.

Dr Robert H Goddard and the first liquid-fueled rocket at Auburn, Massachusetts, 1926. ( Public Domain )

That Haas was a thinker who was way ahead of his time may be seen in the facts that the world first liquid-fueled rocket didn’t become a reality until 16 March 1926 when Robert Goddard launched the world's first liquid-fueled rocket in Auburn, Massachusetts. What’s more, Haas’ multistage rocket design was used for a number of space programs, including NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo Projects. The turbulent times in which Haas’ was living may have also influenced his view of life. Although Haas’ is remembered primarily for his brilliant multistage rocket design, it is perhaps also for his wisdom that he ought to be commemorated. In the last paragraph of his work, Haas gives a piece of advice that advocates for peace:

But my advice is for more peace and no war, leaving the rifles calmly in storage, so the bullet is not fired, the gunpowder is not burned or wet, so the prince keeps his money, the arsenal master his life; that is the advice Conrad Haas gives.

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