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Muslim Rocket Technology

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  • Zafar Khan
    Muslim Rocket Technology http://www.muslimheritage.org/topics/default.cfm?ArticleID=284 Professor Dr Mohamed Mansour Emeritus Professor of Control Eng. ETH
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 11, 2002
      Muslim Rocket Technology


      Professor Dr Mohamed Mansour
      Emeritus Professor of Control Eng.
      ETH Z├╝rich, Switzerland
      EMAIL- INFO@...

      In the 13th century a Syrian scholar, Hassan Al-Rammah
      wrote a remarkable book on military technology, which
      became very famous in the west.

      The first documented rocket is included in the book, a
      model of which is exhibited at the National Air and
      Space Museum in Washington D.C. The author visited
      Washington in September 2000 where he obtained more
      information not only on the rocket but also on its

      Later, he acquired an edited copy of the book from the
      editor Ahmad Al-Hassan.


      The Chinese knew gunpowder in 11th century but did not
      know the right proportions to get explosions and did
      not acheive the necessary purification of potassium
      nitrate. The first Chinese book, which details the
      explosive proportions, was in 1412 by Huo Lung Ching
      [1] .

      Al-Rammah's book is the first to explain the
      purification procedure for potassium nitrate and
      described many recipes for making gunpowder with the
      correct proportions to acheive explosion. This is
      necessary for the development of canons. Partington
      [3] says "the collection of recipes was probably taken
      from various sources at different times in the
      author's family and handed down. Such recipes are
      described as tested."

      Al-Razi, Al-Hamdany and an Arabic-Syriaque manuscript
      of the 10th century describe potassium nitrate. Ibn
      Al-Bitar describes it in 1240. The Arabic-Syriaque
      manuscript of the 10th century gives some recipes of
      gunpowder. It is assumed that these were added in the
      13th century.

      The Latin book "Liber Ignium" of Marcus Graecus is
      originally Arabic (translated in spain) gives many
      recipes for making gunpowder the last four of which
      may have been added to the book in 1280 or 1300. [6]
      "Did Roger Bacon derive his famous cryptic gunpowder
      formula in his Epistola of ca.1260 from the crusader
      Peter of Maricourt, some other traveller or from a
      wide range of reading from Arabic and alchemical
      books". The references (see resources below) 1, 3 and
      5 doubt the correctness and the effectiveness of the
      recipe of Bacon.

      The German scientist Albert Magnus obtained his
      Information from "Liber Ignium" originally an Arabic
      book translated in Spain.

      Evidence of the use of gunpowder during the crusades
      in Fustat, Egypt in 1168 was found in the form of
      traces of potassium nitrate. Such traces were also
      found in 1218 during the siege of Dumyat and in the
      battle of Al-Mansoura in 1249 [1] .

      Winter [6] mentions "the Chinese may have discovered
      saltpeter (i.e. gunpowder) or else that discovery may
      have been transmitted to them by the Muslims whom they
      had plenty of opportunities of meeting either at home
      or abroad. Sarton is referring to Arab-Muslim traders
      to China, as well as Arab inhabitants in China. As
      early as 880 an estimated 120,000 Muslims, Jews and
      Persians lived in Canton alone."

      Canons and Rockets

      There are four Arabic Manuscripts
      (Almakhzoun-manuscripts) one in St Petersburg, two in
      Paris and one in Istanbul)in 1320 describing the first
      portable canon with suitable gunpowder. This
      description is principally the same as for modern
      guns. Such canons were used in the famous battle of
      Ain-Galout against the Mongols(1260) [1] .

      The Mamlouks developed canons further during the 14th

      In Spain, the Arabs used canons defending Seville
      (1248), in Granada 1319, in (Baza or Albacete) 1324,
      in Huescar and Martos 1325,in Alicante 1331 and in
      Algeziras 1342-1344. Partington [3] says "the history
      of artillery in Spain is related to that of the

      Partington [3] mentions "Arabic accounts suggest that
      the Arabs introduced firearms into spain, from where
      they passed to Italy, going from there to France, and
      finally Germany".

      Also reported by Partington [3] "Hassan Al-Rammah
      describes various kinds of incendiary arrows and
      lances and describes and illustrates what has been
      supposed to be a torpedo. This is called 'the egg,
      which moves itself and burns' and the illustration and
      text suggest at least that it was intended to move on
      the surface of water. Two sheet iron pans were
      fastened together and made tight by felt; the
      flattened pear-shaped vessel was filled with "naphtha,
      metal filings, and good mixtures (probably containing
      saltpetre), and the apparatus was provided with two
      rods (as a rudder?) and propelled by a large rocket".

      Ley [4] "But Hassan Al-Rammah adds one unsuspected
      novelty: a rocket-propelled torpedo consisting of two
      flat pans, fastened together and filled with powder or
      an incendiary mixture, equipped with a kind of tail to
      insure movement in a straight line, and propelled by
      two large rockets. The whole was called the
      'self-moving and combusting egg' but no instances of
      its use are related"

      Winter [6] "The Arabs, in any event, appear to have
      been the first to inherit (and possibly originate) the
      secret of the rocket and it was through Arabic
      writings - rather than the Mongols--that Europe came
      to know the rocket. Two notable examples of Arabic
      knowledge of the rocket are the so-called "self-moving
      and combusting egg" of the Syrian Al-Hassan Al-Rammah
      (d.1294-1295), details of which may be found in Ley's
      popular "Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel" and
      physician Yusuf ibn Ismail Al-Kutub's description
      (1311) of saltpeter ("they use it to make a fire which
      rises and moves, thus increasing it in lightness and

      Endnotes and references can be found in the full
      article. See resources below.

      by: Professor Dr Mohamed Mansour , Fri 22 March, 2002

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