Von Braun’s handwritten notes in pencil on the requirements for a spacecraft destined for Mars, unsigned, six pages on four sheets, no date. The first page concerns the “Payload net third, returnable stage,” and itemizes the payload for “10 people, incl. 2 crew,” listing the weights of spacecraft parts such as “Hull,” “Wing,” “Flywheel,” “Guidance & power supply,” and “Fins & rudders.” Estimating these at a total of 8.4 tons, he adds “1.6 tons return fuel” for a total of ten. He goes on to make several calculations and estimates for cargo, including “Weight of satellite.” On the third page, von Braun makes estimates for the differences between the initial and final weights of the first, second, and third stages of his proposed design. The fifth page is headed “3rd stage,” and determines the wing size necessary to support the revised payload as calculated on the first page: “Old wing area was based on 27 tons landing weight. New 3rd stage has 8.5 tons landing weight.” Below, von Braun calculates the wing area required using a scale factor. Most importantly, on the last page, von Braun sketches a diagram of a spacecraft from above based on these new dimensions, labeling the segments with their measurements; included in his sketch are the ten passengers he describes. In overall very good to fine condition, with expected handling wear and a central horizontal crease. From the Doris Hunter Collection.
Von Braun was fascinated by the idea of a manned mission to Mars and made the first engineering analysis of such an excursion in 1948, first publishing his findings in 1952. The calculations offered here seem to expand upon his extremely ambitious proposal, inspired by the the Antarctic expeditions of the early 20th century. He envisioned a 70-member crew aboard a fleet of ten spacecraft, comprised of seven ‘passenger’ ships and three ‘cargo’ ships. The cargo ships would orbit the planet and dispatch groups of explorers to the Martian surface on the smaller passenger vessels. In this initial plan the third-stage return weight was estimated at 27 tons, which appears to be what von Braun hopes to downsize when making these calculations. Exceedingly rare, these handwritten notes—highlighted by the sketch of a possible spacecraft—provide tremendous insight into von Braun’s planning stages for a mission to the ‘red planet’ and are of the utmost desirability.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.