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Before the eyes of 3000 invited guests, the rocket age began May 23, 1928 at Berlin’s AVUS race track.

That was the day, with a long plume of fire and smoke burning behind his shiny black cigar-shaped race car outfitted with two massive wings to keep the machine grounded, Fritz von Opel set a speed record for rocket-propelled cars, hitting an estimated 238 km/h in his RAK 2.

Von Opel, grandson of Opel Motor Car Company founder Adam Opel, and his partners Friedrich Sander and Max Valier used 24 solid-fuel rockets packed with 120 kilograms of explosives to propel the RAK 2 forward. Each time von Opel pressed on the gas pedal he ignited two rockets increasing power until he reached full strength and his world record.

“I stopped thinking. I was acting on instinct alone, with uncontrollable forces raging behind me,” von Opel gushed when he stepped from the car.

The adrenalin still flowing, von Opel immediately announced his ultimate goal: He wanted to fly in a rocket-powered airplane. “Dream with us of the day in which the first space ship can fly around our earth faster than the sun,” von Opel urged the crowd.

A bit more than a year later, September 30, 1929, von Opel had a small taste of that dream when he became the first man to fly in a rocket-propelled plane.

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