Karel Bossart

Scientist, Deceased Person

1904 – 1975


Who was Karel Bossart?

Karel Jan Bossart was a pioneering rocket designer and creator of the Atlas ICBM. His achievements rank alongside those of Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolev but as most of his work was for the United States Air Force and therefore was classified he remains relatively little known.

After winning a scholarship - under the Belgian American Education Foundation - to M.I.T. to study aeronautical engineering he remained in the US working for various aircraft companies. In 1945 he was chief of structures at Convair and proposed to the USAF that a missile could be developed with an 8000km range. The Air Force was skeptical of Bossart's proposal partly to preserve the priority of Strategic Bombers but he was granted a limited contract to develop the proposal. Bossart's major innovation was the use of a monocoque design in which structural support was maintained by pressure within the inelastic fuel tanks. After a series of tests in 1947 the Air Force lost interest and Bossart was instructed to abandon the research but by 1951 the escalation of the cold war enabled Bossart to revive the project that became known as 'Atlas'. In 1955 the CIA reported that the Soviets had swiftly progressed their own ICBM programme and Atlas became a crash project of the highest national importance. Bossart used this opportunity to advance work with high energy cryogenic fuels that resulted in the Centaur upper stage.

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Feb 9, 1904
  • United States of America
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Aug 3, 1975

on July 23, 2013


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