The entrepreneurial ventures of Lutz & Lin Kayser
It might come as a surprise to many, but Elon Musk did not invent private aerospace manufacturing. In fact, the mission architecture of Space X is three decades younger than the mind-blowing accomplishments of Swabian entrepreneur Lutz Kayser. With a dedicated group of engineers, he founded OTRAG, the Orbital Transport and Rocket Stock Corporation which came to be known as the world’s first private space company in 1975.
As a test site, Lutz Kayser leased 100,000 square kilometers of land amidst the wilds of Congo/Zaire, where the OTRAG could build its own spaceport. The “German Cape Canaveral” even included its own butchery, a marijuana plantation and – a professional film team whose vintage 16mm material fell into the hands of a German documentarist.
Oliver Schwehm had originally searched the internet for the derivation of the name Ariane when the birth of his daughter was due. “Of course, I came across the Ariane rocket. At some point I read about a competition project called OTRAG which I first thought was a hoax. It sounded so crude and incredible that I started researching right away – and have not really stopped since then.“
His documentary “Fly Rocket Fly“ (http://otrag.com/en) first opened at the Munich Filmfest 2018 and contains original film material that navigates an unbelievable story between broomsticks, budgets, and bushland. A retrospective adventure cruise begins in the Congolese jungle, for which Lutz Kayser signed a contract with the African dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, and turns into a successful launch coverage of several rockets. When a foreign affairs crisis ensues, however, the space flight venture becomes a political thriller. For all cineasts, the film music is fantastic additional value; it was released on Bureau B with featured songs by the likes of ESB, Camera, Conrad Schnitzler, Günter Schickert, Die Wilde Jagd, as well as new productions from film composer Heiko Maile. Oliver Schwehm’s film captures it all: An unbelievable adventure, technical achievements and diplomatic turmoil, emphasized by a immensely well-crafted soundtrack.
With OTRAG being the first commercial developer of space launch vehicles, Lutz Kayser became a protagonist who still seems relevant in the light of current developments of private aerospace companies. His legacy also inspired his nephew Lin Kayser, whose mission is to reinvent the way objects are manufactured, by using industrial 3D printers. Among others, his company Hyperganic has collaborated with a Bavarian space start up to re-think its rocket engines. PLASMA spoke to Lin Kayser about serendipity, his creative manifesto and the sensation of space.
PLASMA: Lin, what is your earliest memory of your uncle? Would you suggest that encountering his pioneering spirit may have inspired you?
Lin Kayser: The funny thing is that kids perceive everything around them as „normal“. I grew up seeing pictures of rocket launches hanging in my grandma’s living room. I wasn’t aware that people usually hang photos of their grandchildren. I was surrounded by a rather unconventional family. My uncle founded the first private space company, my father was a painter and sculptor. When I started school, my classmates often laughed at me, because they thought I was inventing stories every time I told them about rockets and space. If you ask about the beginning of my own entrepreneurial journey, then it is ultimately due to the fact that early on, I learned to take the initiative and to occupy myself with my own projects.
PLASMA: When the recent Bavarian space program became public, many discussed and questioned the purpose. “Why spend millions of euros on space and invest in rockets, if you could also put money into medical innovation, education and child care?“ Can you relate to those reactions?
Lin Kayser: This discussion is very important, but it is as old as space exploration itself. I think there are two sides to it. Firstly, many people still do not understand that space does not equal science fiction. We walked on the moon fifty years ago, and today anyone with a smartphone connects to GPS satellites as they walk out the door. Yet many people keep forgetting, there is a real world is outside planet Earth. Secondly, they think of the US, or maybe Russia, when it comes to space, although German engineers and scientists are among the very top in space technology. Many of them work for companies like SpaceX. Especially Bavaria has a long history in space. So a space program like Bavaria One makes a lot of sense.
Photos: Courtesy of Oliver Schwehm, director of »Fly Rocket Fly«
full article published in PLASMA magazine 5