Mr Gurbir Singh was the guest speaker at the March meeting of Keighley Astronomical society. He delivered a detailed presentation of the role and influence of early rocket/space clubs and societies.Space clubs and societies have played an important role in the development of space flight, particularly during the early years of rocket research and by theorizing about the best ways to overcome various obstacles to space flight. In more recent years new groups have sought to change government policy and foster private rocket development.
The very first rocket society was barely an organization at all. Dr. Matho Mietk-Liuba, who lived in Savannah, Georgia, established the Rocket Society of the American Academy of Sciences in 1918. But Dr. Liuba was apparently its only member and little is known of his activities, if any, and almost nothing is known about him other than the fact that he was the first person to establish a rocket society. Later, in 1930, a group of rocket enthusiasts formed the American Interplanetary Society in New York City. In 1934, the AIS changed its name to the American Rocket Society because its members felt that potential members were wary of the word “interplanetary” in its title. The ARS conducted rocket research and later led to the development of the Reaction Motors Company. In 1963, the ARS merged with the Institute of Aerospace Sciences to become the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
In 1924, Russian Fridrikh Tsander proposed the creation of a Society for the Study of Interplanetary Travel in Moscow, and the group was formed as part of the Military Science Division of the N.E. Zhukovsky Air Force Academy. The group was renamed the Society for the Study of Interplanetary Communications. It was primarily a debating club, but was the first of several increasingly important Soviet rocket societies. In 1926, Dr. Franz von Hoefft, an Austrian chemist, founded the Austrian Society for High Altitude Exploration. The group soon formed a “Rocket Committee” and communicated with Austrian Professor Hermann Oberth, who was then one of the foremost pioneers in the field of rocket theory and research. However, disputes over the best way to achieve their early goals fragmented this and other groups.
The most important and famous of the early rocket societies was the German Rocket Society, or Verein fur Raumschiffahrt, (VfR) formed in July 1927, in Berlin. Max Valier proposed creating a club that could raise money to finance Hermann Oberth’s rocket experiments. He, scientist and author Willy Ley and several others helped form the club, dedicated to conducting rocket research to eventually develop human-carrying spaceships. Oberth, Dr. Walter Hohman, author of The Attainability of Celestial Bodies, and a young engineer named Dr. Wernher von Braun joined later. By 1930, the VfR began sponsoring actual rocket research outside of Berlin. During one rocket test, the rocket fell on a nearby police station, which brought unwanted attention from the local authorities, who restricted their work. The group collapsed in 1933 for many reasons, including lack of funds and the opposition of the Nazi government to private experimentation. Many of the VfR’s members, including von Braun, later began rocket experimentation for the German government.
Numerous other rocket societies also emerged in the 1930s, including the Group for the Study of Reaction Motion in Moscow (its Russian initials were GIRD and it is commonly referred to as MosGIRD) and another similarly named group in Leningrad (LenGIRD). One of MosGIRD’s founding members was Sergei Korolev, who later became the “Chief Designer” of the Soviet space program.
The British Interplanetary Society was founded by a group of space enthusiasts in October 1933 in Liverpool. By January 1934 the group produced the first Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. Unlike the other early rocket groups, the BIS focused more heavily on theoretical research than actual development of rockets. In particular, during 1938 the members focused on the design of a large solid-propellant moon rocket. Later, in the 1940s, the group proposed a more elaborate moon rocket that included a small lunar taxi for descending to the moon’s surface. This idea was later used in the American Apollo lunar landing program.
When originally formed in October 1933, the BIS aimed not only to promote and raise the public profile of astronautics, but also to undertake practical experimentation into rocketry along similar lines to the organisations above. However, early in 1936 the Society discovered that this ambition was thwarted by the Explosives Act of 1875, which prevented any private testing of liquid-fuel rockets in the United Kingdom.
In the late 1930s, the group devised a project of landing people on the Moon by a multistage rocket, each stage of which would have many narrow solid-fuel rockets. Their lander was gumdrop-shaped but otherwise quite like the Lunar Module. As it was considered that the cabin would have to rotate, BIS member Ralph A. Smith, who helped re-establish the society post-WW2, invented the first instrument for space travel—the Coelostat, a navigation mechanism that would ingeniously cancel out the rotating view. R.A. Smith and Harry Ross M.Eng. were the aerospace visionaries named on the original patent. Smith also authored and illustrated the 1947 book ‘The Exploration of the Moon’ showing the first ever conceptual ‘orbital satellite’ (text by Arthur C. Clarke), which is said to have inspired both John F. Kennedy and Stanley Kubrick.
In 1946 the BIS started a programme known as Megaroc. The purpose of the programme was to develop a Sub-orbital spaceflight that could provide manned ascents to a maximum of 1 million feet (304 km). The craft was made by enlarging and re-designing a V-2 rocket after it was noted by H.E. Ross in 1946 that the V-2 rocket was “nearly big enough to carry a man.” The project was noted to be 10 years ahead of its time by NASA engineers who reviewed it. The same NASA engineers predicted the rocket would have been capable of first achieving a manned suborbital flight between 1949 and 1951, and capable of sending people to space reliably by 1951.
During the second International Astronautical Congress, held in London in 1951, the BIS was one of 13 national space societies who together founded the International Astronautical Federation. The other founding members no longer exist as national societies, leaving only the BIS. In 1978, the Society published a starship study called Project Daedalus, which was a detailed feasibility study for a simple unmanned interstellar flyby mission to Barnard’s Star using present-day technology and a reasonable extrapolation of near-future capabilities. Daedalus was to have used a pellet driven nuclear-pulse fusion rocket to accelerate to 12 percent of the speed of light. The latest in this series of far-reaching studies produced the Project Boreas report, which designed a manned station for the Martian North Pole. The report was short-listed for the 2007 Sir Arthur Clarke Awards in the category of Best Written Presentation.
The BIS publishes the academic journal Journal of the British Interplanetary Society and the monthly magazine Spaceflight. In 2008, the BIS published Interplanetary, a history of the society to date.
The science writer Arthur C. Clarke was a well-known former Chairman of the British Interplanetary Society. The society was presented with the first Special Award, from the 2005 Sir Arthur Clarke Awards. This was a gift of Sir Arthur’s choice, independent of the judging panel. In 2008 the Society’s magazine, Spaceflight, edited by Clive Simpson, was the winner of the award for Best Space Reporting.
Charles Chilton joined the society before writing and producing the science-fiction radio trilogy Journey Into Space.
In 1951, the representatives of various rocket societies around the world met in Vienna to form the International Astronautical Federation, or IAF. The IAF held regular conferences where people could present their papers on various aspects of space flight. These papers could range from serious engineering examinations about spacecraft design or operation to proposals for new political cooperation between countries, or even historical papers about rocketry.
In the early 1960s, Geoff Perry, a physics teacher at the Kettering Grammar School in England, began using radio monitoring equipment to detect signals from Soviet and American satellites that flew overhead. He soon employed his students in the monitoring effort. After much practice, they were able to make some sophisticated observations about the satellites they tracked, such as whether they were experiencing technical difficulties. They announced these observations to the media, which treated The Kettering Group, as it came to be known, as a sort of public intelligence agency on the Soviet space program. The Kettering Group often kept many of its more stunning discoveries quiet in order to secure more data. The group’s members realized that when they publicized Soviet space activities, they ran the risk of prompting the Soviets to change their activities and therefore make it more difficult for Kettering members to monitor them.
In the 1970s, a group of people excited by physicist Gerard K. O’Neill’s writings about giant space colonies formed the L5 Society, which they named after the Lagrangian Libration Point in space where the Earth and Moon’s gravity cancelled each other. This spot was perfect for a space outpost acting as a way station between the Earth and its moon. The Society’s greatest triumph was persuading the Carter administration to refuse to sign a United Nations treaty that it felt would have discouraged the development of the Moon. Also in the early 1970s, von Braun helped form the National Space Institute, based in Washington, D.C., to advocate continued spending on human space exploration. In 1987, the NSI and the L5 Society merged to form the National Space Society.
The Planetary Society was another space activist group formed in the United States in 1980. The Society, based in Pasadena, California, near the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which developed robotic spacecraft under NASA contract, advocated robotic exploration of the planets and benefited greatly from the publicity surrounding the Voyager missions to Jupiter and Saturn. During the 1980s, under the leadership of popular science writer and commentator Carl Sagan, the Society advocated a joint American-Soviet human mission to Mars. Sagan and his group believed that such an effort could help reduce superpower tensions. However, the idea never received serious consideration by the Reagan administration, although Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was reportedly interested by it. The idea faded by the late 1980s and was dead by the 1990s, despite the fact that relations between the United States and the Soviet Union improved dramatically with the ending of the Cold War.
During the early 1980s, retired U.S. Army general Daniel O. Graham formed a private organization named High Frontier. High Frontier acted as a public advocacy group for missile defence and contributed to President Reagan creating the Strategic Defence Initiative in 1983. The group actively countered the critics of missile defence and helped encourage a focus on space-based defences. It was not until the 1990s that space-based missile defences were relegated to a much lower priority. When George W. Bush took office in 2001 and sought the development of an operational missile defence system, it was a ground-based system. High Frontier continued its advocacy of missile defences and also created the Space Transportation Association to reduce the cost of launching payloads to orbit.
In addition to all of the professional groups over the years, there have also been amateur rocket societies dedicated to building small working model rockets. Most of these rockets use solid propellant engines, although some advanced hobbyists build liquid-powered motors for shooting rockets to extreme altitudes. The largest hobbyist group in the United States is the National Association of Rocketry (NAR), which routinely sponsors rocket competitions. The NAR was formed in 1957 and in addition to publishing a magazine and sponsoring various rocketry meets, it also provides liability insurance, just in case a rocket does something it is not supposed to do.