Pedro Eleodoro Paulet Mostajo (July 2, 1874 – January 30, 1945) was a Peruvian diplomat who allegedly in 1895 was the first person to build a liquid-propellant rocket engine and, in 1900, the first person to build a modern rocket propulsion system. German V-2 inventor Wernher von Braun considered Paulet one of the “fathers of aeronautics.”

Pedro Paulet, padre de la Aeronaútica Moderna
Pedro Paulet, padre de la Aeronaútica Moderna

The first practical working liquid propellant rocket motor was claimed by Paulet in1895. He operated a conical motor, 10 centimeters in diameter, using nitrogen peroxide and gasoline as propellants and measuring thrust up to 90 kilograms, and apparently used spark ignition and intermittent propellant injection. The test device which he used contained elements of later test stands, such as a spring thrust-measuring device. However, he did not publish his work until twenty-five years later. Evidence is examined concerning this only known claim to liquid-propellant rocket engine experiments in the nineteenth century.

Scientific Legacy

During his lifetime, Pedro Paulet passed on his visionary ideas to his daughter Megan, who continued to nurture these contributions. “When you grow up and my invention becomes a reality, you and I will travel to the moon. And if because of my age I were to die, you would follow in my footsteps,” he said to his successor. Paulet left this world in 1945, but his legacy has continued over time. NASA used his contributions to help put Apollo 11 on the surface of the moon in 1969. Today, a plaque honors the Peruvian engineer at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., home to the largest collection of airplanes and spacecraft in the world.

In March this year, the Ministry of Culture recognized the writings of this aeronautics pioneer as a National Cultural Heritage. The collection consists of nine documents full of sketches, drawings, records, and autographs made by Paulet during his years of research.

Contributions to Aeronautics

Paulet was able to fine-tune one of his most innovative projects in France: the rocket engine. The idea was to make it run on liquid fuel at a time when the great powers preferred gunpowder. At that time, Paulet was admitted to the French Astronomical Society, where he studied, along with other scientists, the constitution of the atmosphere and the creation of a machine that could ascend to the sky.

In 1902, he put forth his great project: a metal plane, without propellers, with a delta wing and an ovoid cabin. This placed him ahead of great aviation pioneers, such as the Wright brothers, who in 1903 made the first flight aboard an airplane. Although Paulet was full of revolutionary ideas and worked hard to bring them to fruition, the lack of financial support was to slow down his travels. However, the world would remember. The model created by the Arequipa native was presented sixteen years later in the first treaty on aerodynamics in Germany.

Recognition

On December 27, 2006, the rocket Paulet I, a joint venture between the Peruvian Air Force and other Peruvian scientific entities, was named in Paulet’s honor. Its launch that day reached an altitude of 45 km and traveled at five times the speed of sound. This was Peru’s first attempt to venture into space. Future plans include putting a satellite into orbit.

Wernher von Braun, in his book World History of Aeronautics, states: “Pedro Paulet was in Paris in those years (1900), experimenting with his tiny two-and-a-half kilogram motor, and achieved 100 kg of force. By this act, Paulet should be considered the pioneer of the liquid fuel propulsion motor.” Further, in his History of Rocketry and Space Travel, von Braun recognizes that “by his efforts, Paulet helped man reach the Moon.”

In Peru, Paulet’s birthday has been officially declared National Aeronautics Day.

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