Many western European languages use words related to port or base to describe rocket launch complex.

I found it interesting, that only in German language (out of the ones I have been able to look at) Weltraumbahnhof seems to be more commonplace word to describe such place, than Weltraumhafen which had naturally come to mind in similar fashion to Flughafen.

Though Raumhafen may have become more popular in books according to NGram Viewer, news reports of launches still seem to predominantly use Weltraumbahnhof.

Was there any reason behind this adoption?


It seems that the concept of a "Space Station", which is now usually called Raumstation was often referred to synonymously as Weltraumbahnhof back in early 1960s. I found a Spiegel article from 1962 (Amazing I can do a full text search for free from so long time ago!!!) with the following quote:

Tatsächlich hatten diese Raumfahrt -Pioniere schon vor Jahrzehnten Weltraumstationen ersonnen, die als Startplatz für Raumflüge in das Planetensystem gedacht waren. Zu einer Zeit, da noch keine Weltraum-Rakete gebaut worden und keineswegs gewiß war, daß jemals eine gebaut werden würde, mußten diese Weltraumbahnhöfe utopisch anmuten.

A book written in 1963 was also referring to space station as Weltraumstation.

Interestingly enough, another article from Spiegel 5 years later (1967) has the following quote:

Zum US-Weltraumbahnhof Cape Kennedy brachte er Farbaufnahmen zurück, die den Wissenschaftlern zeigten, wie flach die Gashülle der Erdatmosphäre ist.

In comment and answer, mtwde and Paul Frost posted examples of Weltraumbahnhof written in respectively 1968 and 1970 referring to a grounded complex. So something might have happened in the decade to change the terminology. I've found another example from a book in 1971.

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    Maybe because train stations are much more popular in Germany, than in the US. We also call the trace of a rocket "Flugbahn". Jul 20, 2020 at 16:46
  • "Ein deutscher Raumhafen würde für hiesige Unternehmen geringere Transportkosten und weniger Bürokratie bedeuten[...]", "Die aktuell genutzten Raumhäfen liegen größtenteils in Äquatornähe", "Raketenstart vom Raumhafen Esrange in Nordschweden", "SpaceX arbeitet an großen Starship-Raumhäfen". All from somewhat recent news articles. So yes, Raumhafen is used in the news.
    – Polygnome
    Jul 20, 2020 at 18:05
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    Is used, but I'm pretty convinced it is either still rarer occurrence or translation of a given proper noun Spaceport. Searching for recent news of launches by places like Baikonur / Canaveral / Kourou in major German news outlets (FAZ/Welt/DW/SDZ/Spiegel...) still mostly turns up with Weltraumbahnhof.
    – L20
    Jul 21, 2020 at 0:50
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    The word „Busbahnhof“ comes to mind
    – nleanba
    Jul 21, 2020 at 10:38
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    @userunknown: I agree with the first part of your comment, but I don't think "Flugbahn" is any more related to trains than "Fahrbahn" or "Bahnen im Schwimmbad". Or, actually, any more than the "-bahn" in "Eisenbahn", all of which basically just mean "course", "way", "path" in an abstract way. Jul 22, 2020 at 5:58

4 Answers 4


This is a good question, because everything else related to space has nautical terms in German to: Astronaut, Raumschiff, Raumfähre

The answer to this probably lies in the German infrastructure. Germany had one of the best railway connections, and if you wanted to get somewhere you would most likely go to the station and travel by train. In most of Germany there are no docks or harbours for public transportation, so the word Bahnhof was simply more related to travel and movement then the word Hafen.

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    I think the German terms refer to nautical terms, because they are translations: astronaut, space ship, space shuttle, etc. As Op said, there is the term Raumhafen = space port, as well. I'm not going to vote it down, but this answer is pure speculation with no evidence.
    – mtwde
    Jul 21, 2020 at 11:31
  • "if you wanted to get somewhere you would most likely go to the station and travel by train" - is this written in past tense because we just don't leave the house as much anymore during covid-19 times? Jul 22, 2020 at 5:56
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    @O.R.Mapper no, more because cars and planes are more used nowadays and the German railway is falling apart since it was privaticed and is therefore not popular anymore... And "Weltraumbahnhof" is not a new word, it was created in the past.
    – miep
    Jul 22, 2020 at 6:43
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    @miep: That sounds grossly exaggerated. Trains are the primary means of daily commuting and/or domestic travel for countless people. Despite its shortcomings, German railway is certainly an efficient and widely accessible transportation network, and at least in my personal perception, "if you wanted to get somewhere you would most likely go to the station and travel by train" was still absolutely true in early 2020 before covid-19 lockdowns started. Jul 22, 2020 at 6:55
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    So why do Germans say "Raumschiff" and not "Raumeisenbahn", "Raumlokomotive", "Raumwaggon" etc.?
    – Paul Frost
    Jul 23, 2020 at 11:06

Another possible explanation (use at your own risk)

Die ersten Weltraumbahnhöfe entstanden im Verbund mit Eisenbahn-Anlagen, die für den Transport der schweren Raketenstufen und der Nutzlasten benötigt wurden.

The first space port were built in conjunction with railways that were needed to transport the heavy rocket stages and the payloads.

For example:

Image of Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 41, United States

Map (source) of Baikonur Cosmodrome, Russia

  • Unfortunately this is also a rip from older Wikipedia entry, with said section deleted by an editor several years ago, likely for lacking source. de.wikipedia.org/w/…
    – L20
    Jul 21, 2020 at 13:30
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    Regarding the point you mentioned, this was something that came to my mind. In fact, since Germany was one of the pioneer in rocket propulsion development (think A-4 / V-2), I looked around for possible hints from older times, but no term related to Bahn was found. Raketenstartplatz is way more straightforward naming. de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raketenstartplatz
    – L20
    Jul 21, 2020 at 13:31

This is in fact an interesting observation. I do not have a real explanation, but let me quote from here:

Der Begriff entstand in der deutschen Sprache in Analogie zu einem Bahnhof der Eisenbahn; also ein Bahnhof, an dem regelmäßig Starts stattfinden. Der englische Begriff Space-Port dagegen beschreibt einen Begriff, den Hafen, bei dem eher unregelmäßig Starts erfolgen.


The word has definitely been coined before 1970. I found the following advertisement enter image description here in enter image description here

Therefore I guess it was introduced by Wernher von Braun. Perhaps you can find more about its origin in the book

Wernher von Braun - Mein Leben für die Raumfahrt (1969, author Bernd Ruland).


Two other early occurences of "Weltraumbahnhof" have been found by mtwde and L20:

  1. Alle Wunder dieser Welt. Die großen Sehenswürdigkeiten der Welt, von den Pyramiden bis zum Weltraumbahnhof (1968, author Roland Gööck)

  2. Der Mensch im Weltall: Die zweite Entwicklungsstufe der Raumflugkörper (1963, author Albert Ducrocq)
    enter image description here
    Notice the word "Zug" in the screenshot.

Another interesting finding is

  1. Armeerundschau, Heft 3/1972, Magazin des Soldaten (1972, Autorenkollektiv) which appeared in the East German "Deutscher Militärverlag Berlin".
    enter image description here This shows that the word was used in both parts of Germany, and it could even be possible that it is of East German origin, due to the tremendous success of space program of the Soviet Union since 1957. The expression "Weltraumbahnof Baikonur" is a very standard one. The Russian word is "Kosmodrom Baikonur" (Космодром Байконyр) which contains the word "cosmos = Weltraum". Moreover, here you see that

All Baikonur's logistics are based on its own intra-site 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 27⁄32 in) gauge railway network, which is the largest industrial railway on the planet. The railway is used for all stages of launch preparation, and all spacecraft are transported to the launchpads by the special Schnabel cars. Once part of the Soviet Railroad Troops, the Baikonur Railway is now served by a dedicated civilian state company. There are several rail links connecting the Baikonur Railway to the public railway of Kazakhstan and the rest of the world.

  • Unfortunately that page seems to be a ripoff of an old version of Wikipedia entry. The section is now deleted. I wish this included some citation or reference but didn't. de.wikipedia.org/w/…
    – L20
    Jul 21, 2020 at 12:46
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    @L20 I am not sure whether it is a rip-off from Wikipedia. The Wikipedia article (also its deleted section) is from August16, 2019. I do not know how old the article in physik.cosmos-indirekt.de is, but it seems to be written earlier than Wikipedia: In the section "Weltraumbahnhöfe in Europa" you find Stand: September 2014. Therefore I guess the Wikipedia-author made some copy and paste ;-) Anyway, the explanation is of course not documented. It would be interesting to find the first occurence of the word.
    – Paul Frost
    Jul 22, 2020 at 10:37
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  • Well, the text, images and contents of the said page were exact copies of an edition of the article, which has been maintained since the last decade; but yes, I can't say where they were sourced from, so I retract my words; thanks for correcting. Regarding the addition you made it would be interesting and convincing if von Braun was influential in the introduction of the word. If Ngram Viewer is exhaustive (which I somewhat doubt) its usage spread around 1960, so post Sputnik era. The blip in 1930 seems to be a bug.
    – L20
    Jul 23, 2020 at 1:51
  • I found this reference from 1963 on Google Books, but the context seems to suggest this is talking about a "Space Station" a la ISS, and not a launch complex. The book @mtwde linked is "Sehenswürdigkeiten" so I think the this one is talking about a grounded structure.
    – L20
    Jul 23, 2020 at 1:51

I am not convinced, that the railways-based conotation you seem to claim for Bahnhof actually holds.

A look at the etymology section in e.g. DWDS reveals, that Bahn is a pretty universal term for all types of ways, with Umlaufbahn, Flugbahn as interesting other composite examples.

Gleis, which would today be translated as railways without second thought, originally meant just the tracks as left by cart wheels (see DWDS, etymology section) and so predated railways by some centuries.

Hof is similar flexible term for a single or an ensemble of buildings and the surrounded area, considering Bauernhof, Bauhof, Busbahnhof (no railway required either) or the Hof of a ruler translating to court.

So Bahnhof may boil down to building, where tracks start.

  • It would be interesting to find out whether your claim was true back when the term "Weltraumbahnhof" was first coined. At least in my nowadays' perception of German (i.e. the one I gathered growing up as a native speaker since the 1980s), the compound word "Bahnhof" is (despite the genericity of its components) strongly and exclusively linked to railways. And, yes, this holds true even for the "Busbahnhof", a word that I hear as "a place where buses leave from platforms, as if they were trains" rather than as "a place on the travel way of buses where you can embark/disembark". In other ... May 9 at 22:48
  • ... words, it seems to me like the word "Bahnhof" can only be used if there is actually a strong analogy to a railway station in some way, rather than just some connection to one of the meanings of the components "Bahn" and "Hof". May 9 at 22:50

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