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1633: First Successful Manned Rocket Flight

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Lagâri Hasan Çelebi was a legendary Ottoman aviator who, according to an account written by traveler Evliya Çelebi, made a successful manned rocket flight in seventeenth century. 

Evliya Çelebi purported that in 1633 Lagari Hasan Çelebi launched in a 7-winged rocket using 50 okka (140 lbs) of gunpowder from Sarayburnu, the point below Topkapı Palace in Istanbul. The flight was said to be undertaken at the time of the birth of Sultan Murad IV’s daughter. 

Lagâri Hasan Çelebi’s rocket flight depicted in a 17th-century engraving.

As Evliya Celebi wrote, Lagari proclaimed before launch “O my sultan! Be blessed, I am going to talk to Jesus”; after ascending in the rocket, he landed in the sea, swimming ashore and reporting “O my sultan! Jesus sends his regards to you!;”; he was rewarded by the Sultan with silver and the rank of sipahi in the Ottoman army. 

Model of Lagari Hasan Çelebi rocket

Credit: wowTurkey.com

Evliya Çelebi also wrote of Lagari’s brother, Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi, making a flight by glider a year earlier. with levitating.

 

Istanbul Beneath My Wings is a film about the lives of Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi, his brother Lagari Hasan Çelebi, and Ottoman society in the early 17th century as witnessed and narrated by Evliya Çelebi. 

The legend was addressed in an experiment by the television show MythBusters, on November 11, 2009, in the episode “Crash and Burn”; however, the rocket constructed for the TV show did not adhere closely to Evliya Çelebi’s description, and the final design did not attempt to utilize period materials

 
 

Rocket technology was first known to Europeans following its use by the Mongols Genghis Khan and Ögedei Khan when they conquered parts of Russia, Eastern, and Central Europe. The Mongolians had acquired the Chinese technology by conquest of the northern part of China and by the subsequent employment of Chinese rocketry experts as mercenaries for the Mongol military. Reports of the Battle of Mohi in the year 1241 describe the use of rocket-like weapons by the Mongols against the Magyars. 

Rocket technology also spread to Korea, with the 15th century wheeled hwacha that would launch singijeon rockets. Additionally, the spread of rockets into Europe was also influenced by the Ottomans at the siege of Constantinople in 1453, although it is very likely that the Ottomans themselves were influenced by the Mongol invasions of the previous few centuries. In their history of rockets published on the Internet, NASA says “Rockets appear in Arab literature in 1258 A.D., describing Mongol invaders’ use of them on February 15 to capture the city of Baghdad.

 
First Iron Rockets
 
In 1792, the first iron-cased rockets were successfully developed and used by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan, rulers of the Kingdom of Mysore in India against the larger British East India Company forces during the Anglo-Mysore Wars. The British then took an active interest in the technology and developed it further during the 19th century. The Mysore rockets of this period were much more advanced than the British had previously seen, chiefly because of the use of iron tubes for holding the propellant; this enabled higher thrust and longer range for the missile (up to 2 km range). After Tipu’s eventual defeat in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War and the capture of the Mysore iron rockets, they were influential in British rocket development, inspiring the Congreve rocket, which was soon put into use in the Napoleonic Wars.
 

The First Rockets Developed By The Chinese

Rockets for military and recreational uses date back to at least 13th century China.  The availability of black powder (gunpowder) to propel projectiles was a precursor to experiments as weapons such as bombs, cannon, incendiary fire arrows and rocket-propelled fire arrows. The discovery of gunpowder was probably the product of centuries of alchemical experimentation in which Taoist alchemists were trying to create an elixir of immortality that would allow the person ingesting it to become physically immortal. However, anyone with a wood fire would have observed the acceleration of combustion that accidentally-chosen saltpetre-containing rocks would have produced.

Exactly when the first flights of rockets occurred is contested. Merely lighting a centimeter-sized solid lump of gunpowder on one side can cause it to move via reaction (even without a nozzle for efficiency), so confinement in a tube and other design refinements may easily have followed for the experimentally-minded with ready access to saltpeter.

A problem for dating the first rocket flight is that Chinese fire arrows can be either arrows with explosives attached, or arrows propelled by gunpowder. There were reports of fire arrows and ‘iron pots’ that could be heard for 5 leagues (25 km, or 15 miles) when they exploded, causing devastation for a radius of 600 meters (2,000 feet), apparently due to shrapnel. A common claim is that the first recorded use of a rocket in battle was by the Chinese in 1232 against the Mongol hordes at Kai Feng Fu. However, the lowering of iron pots there may have been a way for a besieged army to blow up invaders. A scholarly reference occurs in the Ko Chieh Ching Yuan (The Mirror of Research), states that in 998 AD a man named Tang Fu invented a fire arrow of a new kind having an iron head.

 
A depiction of the “long serpent” rocket launcher from the 11th century book Wujing Zongyao. The holes in the frame are designed to keep the fire arrows separate.

Less controversially, one of the earliest devices recorded that used internal-combustion rocket propulsion, was the ‘ground-rat,’ a type of firework recorded in 1264 as having frightened the Empress-Mother Kung Sheng at a feast held in her honor by her son the Emperor Lizong.

Subsequently, one of the earliest texts to mention the use of rockets was the Huolongjing, written by the Chinese artillery officer Jiao Yu in the mid-14th century. This text also mentioned the use of the first known multistage rocket, the ‘fire-dragon issuing from the water’ (huo long chu shui), used mostly by the Chinese navy


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