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Wernher von Braun, the son of a Prussian baron, was born in Wirsitz, Germany in 1912. He studied engineering at Berlin's Charlottenburg Institute of Technology and after reading The Rocket into Interplanetary Space by Hermann Oberth, he became interested in rocket technology and helped form the German Society for Space Travel.
In 1932 Braun's achievements attracted the attentions of Walter Dornberger, who was in charge of the solid-fuel rocket research and development in the Ordnance Department of the German Army. Dornberger recruited Braun and in 1934 he successfully built two rockets that rose vertically for more the than 2.4 kilometres (1.5 miles).
Dornberger was appointed military commander of rocket research station at Peenemunde in 1937. Braun became technical director of the establishment and he began to develop the long-range ballistic missile, the A4 and the supersonic anti-aircraft missile Wasserfall.
During the Second World War Braun began working on a new secret weapon, the V2 Rocket. This 45 feet long, liquid-fuelled rocket carried a one ton warhead, and was capable of supersonic speed and could fly at an altitude of over 50 miles. As a result it could not be effectively stopped once launched.
Heinrich Himmler saw the military potential of Braun's research and took over control of the research station. Himmler became increasingly concerned about the motivation of Braun, considering him more interested in space travel than developing bombs. In March, 1944, Braun was arrested by the Gestapo and was only released when they became convinced that Braun was willing to use all his energies to develop this bomb that Himmler believed had the potential to win the war.
The V2 Rocket was first used in September, 1944. Over 5,000 V-2s were fired on Britain. However, only 1,100 reached their target. These rockets killed 2,724 people and badly injured 6,000. After the D-Day landings, Allied troops were on mainland Europe and they were able to capture the launch sites and by March, 1945, the attacks came to an end.
With the Red Army advancing on the Peenemunde Research Station, Braun and his staff fled west and surrendered to the US Army. Braun and 40 other rocker scientists were taken to the United States where they worked on the development of nuclear missiles.
In 1952 Braun became technical director of the US Army's Ballistic Missile Agency at Huntsville, Alabama and was chiefly responsible for the manufacture and successful launching of Redstone, Jupiter-C, Juno and Pershing missiles.
After the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik on 4th October, 1957, Braun concentrated on the development of space rockets and in January, 1958 launched Explorer I.
In 1960 Braun became director of the Marshall Space Flight Center where he developed the Saturn rocket that helped the United States to land on the moon in 1969.
When President Richard Nixon dramatically reduced the space budget in 1972 Braun resigned and became vice-president of Fairchild Industries, an aerospace company
Wernher von Braun, who wrote the books Conquest of the Moon (1953) and Space Frontier (1967) died of cancer at Alexandria on 16th June, 1977.
Wernher von Braun and Peak Whiteness
“Once civilization is committed to technical advance, we have to keep going. We can’t go back to a pastoral existence. That would destroy the social bases of our modern life. … But you don’t get something for nothing. There are strings attached to that chance.”
Wernher von Braun (1950)
For a former Nazi responsible for war crimes, Wernher von Braun led a very public life in the United States. This is a testament to how little anyone in power really wanted to talk about the last War, the Holocaust or the Nazis in our midst. But by the early 1960s, with JFK promising America the Moon, WvB suddenly became both too big to fail and too hard not to mock. Through it all, from Prussia to the Sea of Tranquility, WvB wore his technocratic whiteness as a kind of armor. His big brain and Aryan good looks, top secret military clearance and charismatic salesmanship made him a man of the future, cut out from his own past and re-cast as a techno-teutonic-mystic. Time and Life magazines rechristened WvB the “Profit of the Space Age” and “The Seer of Space”*
When he died in 1977 at the age of 65, WvB had walked the line of respectability in America for half his life. In West Germany he was admired as a figure of scientific accomplishment in service of the Western Alliance. To the Communist East German government he was a fugitive and war criminal. Millions of Americans held his name in reverence as the genius Rocketeer behind the Moonshot while casually shrugging off his cloudy past. Better to collaborate with a Nazi than let the Commies beat us to the Moon, right?
Well, by the 1960s this kind of moral compromise with racism and evil no longer seemed quite so viable or so necessary. In the years between Sputnik and Apollo 11 America began to change, and with it changed the public’s image of WvB. If it was the paranoid, Disneyfied culture of the 1950s that made WvB a household name, by the time of the first Moon landing in August 1969 fewer and fewer people were so convinced of the universalism of the mission. After all, what was there to find (or plant) on the Moon besides the racialized symbolism of Manifest Destiny, American Empire and Peak Whiteness? The Civil Rights movement, second wave Feminism and a growing Counterculture of the 1960s and 70s began to challenge the power of whiteness by dragging WvB back down to Earth. In the end, the Moonshot marked the last great state project in the history of the West and the beginning of the end of technocratic whiteness.
As a way of drawing our story to a close I want to consider the place of WvB in popular culture. Satirists like Tom Lerher and Stanley Kubrick found in WvB a means of ridiculing and resisting what former president Eisenhower called “the Military Industrial Complex.” Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, the epic novel of Peak Whiteness, deploys WvB as both guiding spirit and splintered talisman of the Rocket state. And lastly we will consider the moment in which WvB grasped his opportunistic betrayal to become a Civil Rights activist (which, of course, Gil Scott Heron didn’t buy for a second).
President Eisenhower never fully trusted WvB. In his postwar memoir, Crusade in Europe, Eisenhower claims that “if the German had succeeded in perfecting and using these new weapons six months earlier than he did, our invasion of Europe would have proved exceedingly difficult, perhaps impossible.”* This is an example of the general turned military historian playing at counterfactuals. But it is also a profound compliment between military men, a show of respect paid to WvB and the power of his new, Fascist technology.
As President, Ike fully funded WvB’s missile program, especially after getting caught out on Sputnik. But Eisenhower resented WvB’s public persona, his constant campaigning for bigger budgets. So when the two term Republican President gave his farewell address on 17 January 1961, he explicitly warned the nation about the growing arms race and about men like WvB.
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” With this term — Military Industrial Complex — Eisenhower gave the new generation a name for the System behind American power. Combining militarism with monopoly capitalism, the MIC put scientists at the center of the National Security apparatus. “Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger,” warned Eisenhower, “that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”* Asked later by a reporter who he had in mind by this “scientific-technological elite,” the unburdened former President unhesitatingly replied: “Teller and Von Braun.”*
Eisenhower had a point in naming Edward Teller, the Hungarian born nuclear physicist know as “the father of the Hydrogen bomb,” and WvB the Rocketeer. Together they were the two biggest brains with the biggest budgets that were changing War in ways that the aging general could no longer comprehend. Teller and Von Braun had made D-Day obsolete. What is perhaps more striking in Ike’s comments is the menace, even the fear, manifest in the idea of two foreign scientists holding the nation hostage to their annihilating visions. It truly is the stuff of comic book supervillains.
It is startling just how similar Eisenhower’s warning of 1961 is to the arguments put forward by the radical sociologist C.Wright Mills in his 1956 blockbuster The Power Elite. In this book Mills details “the great structural shift of modern American capitalism toward a permanent war economy” in which “the military manipulation of civilian opinion and the military invasion of the civilian mind” serves to expand the power of “the Warlords.” This shift in the balance of American power impacts not only our domestic politics and foreign policy in which “the military metaphysics” becomes “the only reality,” but it transforms the nation’s relationship to science, technology and the production of knowledge. “Since World War II,” writes Mills, “the general direction of pure scientific research has been set by military considerations… it is these senior circles [of scientific research] that have become deeply involved in the politics of military decisions, and the militarization of political life.”*
For WvB, political life had always been militarized, his scientific pursuits always paid for and governed by military men, needs and ends. So what is important here is not only that WvB spent his life building Rockets for the German then American Army, but that in so doing he managed to become an important public figure, one capable of advocating for the weaponization of space alongside visions of colonizing the solar system. According to both Eisenhower and Mills, it would seem, WvB had not only joined the Power Elite, but he had the country by the throat.
If there was a beginning of the end of WvB’s heroic persona, it came at his own hubristic hands. For whatever reason (his huge and growing ego), WvB became the major promoter behind his own cinematic biopic, a German-American co-production of the WvB story called “I Aim At the Stars” (1960). Today the film is blessedly hard to find, it comes across TMC every once and a while at 2:00 am. As one might expect, it soft pedals WvB’s involvement with Nazism, painting our scientist hero as a somewhat reckless idealist, dreaming of the stars though he is surrounded by darkness. “Look, I’m a scientist,” protests the movie WvB. “I couldn’t care less about party stuff. Hitler, or the man in the moon, it’s all the same to me. Come to think of it, I prefer the man in the moon.”*
The film was a dud, especially after protesters picketed the World Premier in Munich where police had to be called in keep the crowds back. Anti-Nuclear protesters showed up at the film’s debut screening in New York City bearing signs denouncing WvB as a Nazi and the father of the nuclear missile. In the end, the most relevant thing about the film was comedian Mort Saul’s addendum to the title, “but sometimes I hit London.” This punchline proved a much bigger hit than the movie itself. While the film’s failure did nothing to hinder WvB’s career in Rocketry, Saul seemed to open the comedic flood gates.
The improv comedy team of Nichols and May carried the satyrical counterforce forward in 1961 with a take on the Von Braun family’s domestic life. In an improvised sketch, Mike Nichols becomes WvB returning home from a long day at the laboratory to Elaine May as MvB and the “little woman’s cooking.” Both feel blessed by their new country’s dedication to “the arms race.” Yet they hint at a teutonic, husband-and-wife conspiracy to conquer, ending with Maria shouting orgastically: “Ya! Today America, tomorrow the World! GOD BLESS AMERICA!” WvB apparently took issue with Nichols and May and threatened to sue the duo. As a result the skit did not appear on subsequent releases of the album, but lucky for us, we have YouTube.
The most direct pop confrontation with WvB came in 1965 from Tom Lehrer. Lehrer was a former Harvard Math professor turned satyrical songsmith who wrote cheery tunes about Nuclear war. In a song simply entitled “Wernher Von Braun,” Lehrer offers an acidic, ironic defense of WvB’s battered reputation. “Call him a Nazi, he wont even frown,” begins Lehrer, and though there are no references to the SS or Dora, the song delivers a clever unfolding of Saul’s punchline with a Gilbert & Sullivan flourish: “A man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience.”
Lehrer’s song seemed to capture the rising New Left’s critique of the System, the Postwar arms race and the evil commonly done in the name of science. Lehrer’s light tone conceals a dark vision of WvB, less an insult to the man personally than an indictment of the entire technocratic, Cold War state that puts men like WvB at its head. In spite of the directness of Lerher’s challenge, the song’s feigned defense of WvB underscored the fact that comedy remained the only way to publicly challenge the American Rocket State.
At the same time, a pair of rebellious directors adapted the persona of WvB in disparate ways to set a new tone for 1960s filmmaking. Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 film Alphaville used the modern architecture of contemporary Paris to shoot a science-fiction film noir about a hardboiled detective out to destroy the dystopian dictator of Alphaville, a computer intelligence built by the evil mastermind “Dr. Von Braun.” Godard’s detective discovers that if the tyrannical computer is bent on the destruction of illogical systems, then poetry and humor are weapons of mass resistance.
Stanley Kubrick wrestled with the duality of the Rocket in two films fueled by the visions of WvB. Dr. Strangelove is a biting satire of the Cold War and the oversexed military leadership whose embrace of technocratic decision-making creates a deliberate, accidental doomsday. Arguably Kubrick’s darkest film, Dr. Strangelove is also his funniest.
The titular character, Dr. Strangelove played by Peter Sellers, appears only twice in the film but easily steals the show. The character is bound to a wheelchair and possessed of a Fascist right arm that seems either bent on his self-destruction or is involuntarily springing upward into a Nazi salute. Dr. Strangelove sports WvB’s wavy blond hair and high pitched, heavily accented voice. And as “Director of weapons research and development” Dr. Strangelove is first brought in to explain to the President how the Soviet’s Doomsday Device works. Later, with the bombs detonating at film’s end, Dr. Strangelove offers a eugenics inspired, 14 year old boy’s sexual fantasy solution to the problem of human survival, imagining a future where select members of the human race are selected by computers, along with all top military and government men, and sent down into mine shafts to breed for 100 years while the “Doomsday Shroud” covers an irradiated planet. Dr. Strangelove is not explicitly WvB, but he is rather — perhaps even more harshly — the whole of Operation Paperclip, synthesized into a single demented maniac who twice slips and calls the President “Mein Führer.”
If Kubrick savages the nightmare WvB in Dr. Strangelove, he embraces the utopian WvB in 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968). Arthur C. Clark was one of WvB’s closest friends in America and Kubrick’s co-author for the script of 2001. Clark clearly put in a good word for WvB, for much of the production design was inspired by the WvB’s fantasies from the pages of Collier’s magazine and Disney’s “Man in Space.” If Dr. Strangelove uses WvB the former Nazi weapons scientist to create black comedy that ends in the annihilation of humanity, then 2001 gives us WvB’s utopian vision of orbital space stations and interplanetary travel, imagining a voyage of escape “beyond the infinite,” a cosmic leap in evolution and the rebirth of the human race. But only after the machine intelligence tries to kill everyone.
It is Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), the Epic novel of Peak Whiteness, that marks the counterculture’s most profound confrontation with WvB and the Rocket. As the novel begins, it is the winter of 1944 and V-2 Rockets are falling on London in a pattern British intelligence officers soon discover maps precisely on to the sexual conquests of the American Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop. Conditioned since infancy by Pavlovians and German chemists alike, Slothrop’s erections appear to predict the V-2’s trajectories in a feat of reverse causality, like how the explosion of the V-2 precedes its screaming sound. This uncanny psycho-sexual connection to the Rocket sets off a wild chase across postwar Europe, the Zone in which Slothrop, along with hundreds of displaced characters, seek out the meaning of the Rocket 00000. Taking place in the nine months spanning the end of WWII in Europe, from December 1944 to August 1945, the novel covers the geography of this story, between London, the Mittelwerk and Peenemünde. All of which ends, via a cinematic jump cut to the Orpheus Theater on Melrose in LA, with the Rocket ooooo transformed into the death Rocket, frozen like a broken projector, suspended over our heads awaiting “the last delta-t” and a final song.
No brief description can do justice to the terrifying variety of dark satire, silly songs, funny names, wild sexual acts, Rocket limericks -
There once was a thing called a V-2,
To pilot which you did not need to —
You just pushed a button,
And it would leave nuttin’
But stiffs and big holes and debris, too.*
- drug hallucinations, corporate seances, Tarot Card readings, cybernetics, thermodynamics, mathematics and an encyclopedic array of literary and historical references that make this a novel well unlike any other.Zak Smith, Pictures Showing What Happens On Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (Walker Arts Center, 2004)
With the V-2 Rocket, Pynchon inscribes a meta-symbol for western history and technology at Peak Whiteness. And insofar as the novel’s form embodies its politics, it marks the countercultures’ most expansive effort to map out a terrain of freedom in a world in which They dominate everything through a dizzying array of technologies and conspiracies of control. “The Man has a branch office in each of our brains,” writes Pynchon, “his corporate emblem is a white albatross, each local rep has a cover known as the Ego, and their mission in this world is Bad Shit.”*
In addition to placing the V-2 — like Melville’s White Whale — at the novel’s thematic core, Pynchon makes broad use of the figure of WvB, fragmenting his moral-narrative line into at least three different identities. WvB is the first voice we hear in the novel’s opening epigraph: Beyond the Zero: “Nature does not know extinction all it knows is transformation. Everything science has taught me, and continues to teach me, strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death.”
Though this theme of transformation (as well as questionable spiritual practices) sets the tone for the entire novel, we never actually see WvB. We hear about him a couple times, but his Elect path through the world keeps him too many steps ahead of our bumbling, Preterite anti-hero Slothrop and his gathering counterforce.
Secondly, WvB is abstracted and reconstituted as Major Weissmann, the SS man in charge of the Rocket, also known as Dominus Blicero, the figure of sadomasochistic evil whose names mean “white man” and “Lord Death.” An original practitioner of racial genocide against the Hereros in German Südwest Africa, Weissmann is an embodiment of the novel’s paranoid They, a torturing and manipulative colonial officer turned leader of the Rocket State cartel. Yet Pynchon seems to have WvB in mind when he describes Weissmann at Peenemünde: “All things to all men, a brand-new military type, part salesman, part scientist.”*
At the novel’s end, Weissmann launches the 00000 with his abused but adoring sacrificial object, Gottfried, into space. This Rocket, satirically blasting an Aryan boy into space as a symbol of Peak Whiteness, transforms into the Nuclear missile falling on the novel’s last page. “…what is this death but a whitening,” writes Pynchon as the Rocket transforms from a V-2 with a boy aboard to an ICBM with us in its sights, “a carrying of whiteness to ultrawhite, what it is but bleaches, detergents, oxidizers, abrasives… he is Blicker, Bleicherode, Bleacher, Blicero, extending, rarefying the Caucasian pallor to an abolition of pigment, of melanin, of spectrum, of separateness from shade to shade, it is so white that…” This Rocket is both an attempt at escape, a dream of colonizing the stars and the realization of our own mass deaths figured as a burning, toxic whiteness. In other words: Total Mind Fuck (especially if you are a white guy who once loved Rockets like me).
Weissmann is an angel of death and he makes his private escape not to the Moon but to America. “If you’re wondering where he’s going,” writes Pynchon in cold anger, “look among the successful academics, the Presidential advisers, the token intellectuals who sit on boards of directors. He is surely there. Look high, not low.”*
But we also find a fictional version of WvB embodied in the naive engineer Franz Pökler, the supposedly pure scientist who is willfully seduced and coerced by the Nazis into specialized work at Peenemünde. When we first meet Pökler, back in his impoverished Weimar days, his militant Communist wife threatens to leave him “swimming his seas of fantasy, death-wish, rocket-mysticism.”* Later, while working at Peenemünde, Pökler becomes the “prematurely aged adolescent whiz” who is manipulated by Weissmann through control over his daughter Ilsa. Once a year Pökler is given a pass to visit Ilsa (if it really is her) at a German Disneyland-type kiddie park, itself a dark satire of Nazi utopian ambitions. In their last visit, as the park is bombed and abandoned, Ilsa is too grown to maintain the fiction and lets slip that she is a prisoner in the Dora camp, and has been all along. She and her mother have been held just the other side of the cave entrance from where Pökler worked at Nordhausen. In the last days of the war, the shocked Pökler again helps Weissmann to modify the Rocket 00000, after which Pökler receives a note saying that Ilsa has been released.
“The odors of shit, death, sweat, sickness, mildew, piss, the breathing of Dora,” writes Pynchon as Pökler enters the Mittelwerk, “wrapped him as he crept in staring at the naked corpses being carried out now that America was so close…” This passage becomes the emotional encounter with the Nazi abyss that we know WvB must have seen, must have smelled, albeit without “the inconveniences of caring” that so burden Pökler.
In the darkest, foulest part of the tunnel, Pökler finds a dying woman and gives her his gold wedding ring, an anonymous act of generosity to one victim of his ambition. Or maybe is he trying to buy off his guilt cheaply? “All his vacuums, his labyrinths, had been the other side of this,” writes Pynchon, asking of Pökler the same question demanded of all “ordinary Germans” under the Third Reich. “While he lived, and drew marks on paper, this invisible kingdom had kept on, in the darkness outside… all this time…”* This sequence, the very center of the novel’s formal arc, gives us through postmodern fiction the moral confrontation between the engineer and his capitulation to evil, between pure theory and real violence, between the Paperclip men and the ethical consequences of their phallic Rocket’s visions of escape.
Pynchon finds in WvB and his surrogates a figure of historical continuity, the deep imperial and corporate scientific roots of the Rocket State passing from Germany to the United States. After all, this was the world that Pynchon found himself in while living on the West Coast in the 1960s. As a young, broke and aspiring novelist, Pynchon spent more than two years writing for Boeing Aerospace’s in-house magazines in Seattle, publishing articles on Rocket maintenance and safety. He had personally worked inside the machine, renting his skills as a staff writer to the same system of mass death that WvB helped create. And all at a moment in which the United States began blasting men into Space while waging a colonial war in Vietnam. Gravity’s Rainbow is Pynchon’s epic yet irreconcilable confrontation with the moral problem of WvB, War, the Rocket and Peak Whiteness.
Wernher von Braun
Wernher von Braun, pioneering rocket engineer and advocate of space travel, was born the second of three sons to Baron Magnus von Braun and Baroness Emmy von Quistorp, in Wirsitz, Germany, in 1912. As a child, he eagerly read the popular science fiction of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, while also immersing himself in scientific texts and manuals on rockets. Exhibiting mechanical inclination and ability from an early age, young Wernher decided to build a car out of spare parts, a project that took up so much of his time that he flunked mathematics and physics in school. However, receiving a telescope from his mother and reading Hermann Oberth’s By Rocket to Space as an adolescent cemented his interest in and commitment to rocket science.
As a teenager, von Braun studied calculus, trigonometry, and physics, quickly mastering each despite his early academic failures. In just a few short years, von Braun achieved considerable academic success and proceeded rapidly toward his goal of becoming a pioneer in the field of space exploration: at age 16, he led several volunteers in building an observatory from scratch at 17, he joined the German rocket society, Verein fur Raumschiffarht (VfR) at 18, he entered the Berlin Institute of Technology two years later, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. His activities with the rocket society received the attention of a military scientist, and after graduation, he was offered (and accepted) a position with the German army to work on a ballistic missile project developing new rocket engines. During this time he received a Ph.D in aerospace engineering from the University of Berlin—at just 22 years of age.
Von Braun soon went to work at a secret laboratory called Peenemünde near the Baltic Sea, working on the V1 missile, which would terrorize Londoners, and then heading up the team that developed the V2 missile. The basis for the rockets later used in the U.S and Soviet space programs, the V2 drew upon von Braun’s prior work with liquid-fueled rocket engines in its design. The V2 missiles, weighing about 28,000 pounds (almost 13,000 kilograms) each and produced at a slave labor factory, were capable of speeds of nearly 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers) per hour. The V2 was tested at Peenemünde on 3 October 1942, with much success. The world’s first launch of a ballistic missile, it broke the sound barrier and became the first rocket to reach the border of space. The V2 showed promise as a combat weapon, and Hitler ordered V2 rockets into production. On 7 September 1944, the V2 was used for the first time in war hostilities. The first V2 to be fired at Britain landed at Chiswick, west London, killing a 63-year-old woman, a three-year-old girl, and a member of the Royal Engineers who was on leave.
Attacks on Britain continued, but it was not until 8 November 1944 that the Germans formally announced they were using the V2. Two days later, prime minister Winston Churchill told Parliament that Britain had been under rocket attack "for the last few weeks." Later that month, 160 people were killed and 108 seriously injured when a V2 rocket struck a Woolworth's department store in New Cross, south-east London. With Germany losing the war, the V2 was used extensively in the final months of the conflict. London was the target on more than 1,300 occasions, and missiles were also fired at Norwich and Ipswich.
By the end of the war, less than three years after their first test, V2 rockets had been fired at Britain more than 1,400 times, causing devastation wherever they landed.
The attacks on Britain and other targets, including Antwerp in Belgium, are estimated to have killed 7,250 military personnel and civilians. In addition, 12,000 forced laborers were killed producing the weapons, which were made at the German Mittelwerk factory site by prisoners from a nearby concentration camp.
By 1945, however, it was clear to von Braun that Germany was losing the war, despite the technical advancements in weaponry he helped develop, and he organized the surrender to the Americans of himself, his top 500 rocket scientists, and much of their work.
After his surrender, he worked for the U.S Army for 15 years continuing his work on ballistic missiles and rocketry. Von Braun and his team were transferred to NASA in 1960, where he became director of the Marshall Space Flight Center. There he was instrumental in the development of the Saturn V booster rocket that would eventually enable Americans to reach the moon. In 1970, he moved to Washington, D.C as Deputy Associate Administrator for Planning at NASA Headquarters, but retired two years later. He then took a position as vice-president of Fairchild Industries in Germantown, Maryland, where he was instrumental in the formation and promotion of the National Space Institute. Diagnosed with cancer in 1976, he retired from Fairchild and died on 16 June 1977 in Alexandria, Virginia.
Wernher von Braun was born on 23 March 1912, in the small town of Wirsitz in the Posen Province, then the German Empire. He was the second of three sons of a noble Lutheran family. From birth he held the title of Freiherr (equivalent to Baron). The German nobility's legal privileges were abolished in 1919, although noble titles could still be used as part of the family name. [ citation needed ]
His father, Magnus Freiherr von Braun (1878–1972), was a civil servant and conservative politician he served as Minister of Agriculture in the federal government during the Weimar Republic. His mother, Emmy von Quistorp (1886–1959), traced her ancestry through both parents to medieval European royalty and was a descendant of Philip III of France, Valdemar I of Denmark, Robert III of Scotland, and Edward III of England.   Wernher had an older brother, the West German diplomat Sigismund von Braun, who served as Secretary of State in the Foreign Office in the 1970s, and a younger brother, also named Magnus von Braun, who was a rocket scientist and later a senior executive with Chrysler. 
The family moved to Berlin in 1915, where his father worked at the Ministry of the Interior. After Wernher's Confirmation, his mother gave him a telescope, and he developed a passion for astronomy.  Here in 1924, the 12-year-old Wernher, inspired by speed records established by Max Valier and Fritz von Opel in rocket-propelled cars,  caused a major disruption in a crowded street by detonating a toy wagon to which he had attached fireworks. He was taken into custody by the local police until his father came to get him.
Wernher learned to play both the cello and the piano at an early age and at one time wanted to become a composer. He took lessons from the composer Paul Hindemith. The few pieces of Wernher's youthful compositions that exist are reminiscent of Hindemith's style.  : 11 He could play piano pieces of Beethoven and Bach from memory.
Beginning in 1925, Wernher attended a boarding school at Ettersburg Castle near Weimar, where he did not do well in physics and mathematics. There he acquired a copy of Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (1923, By Rocket into Planetary Space)  by rocket pioneer Hermann Oberth. In 1928, his parents moved him to the Hermann-Lietz-Internat (also a residential school) on the East Frisian North Sea island of Spiekeroog. Space travel had always fascinated Wernher, and from then on he applied himself to physics and mathematics to pursue his interest in rocket engineering.
In 1930, von Braun attended the Technische Hochschule Berlin, where he joined the Spaceflight Society (Verein für Raumschiffahrt or "VfR") and assisted Willy Ley in his liquid-fueled rocket motor tests in conjunction with Hermann Oberth.  In spring 1932, he graduated with a diploma in mechanical engineering.  His early exposure to rocketry convinced him that the exploration of space would require far more than applications of the current engineering technology. Wanting to learn more about physics, chemistry, and astronomy, von Braun entered the Friedrich-Wilhelm University of Berlin for doctoral studies and graduated with a doctorate in physics in 1934.  He also studied at ETH Zürich for a term from June to October 1931.  Although he worked mainly on military rockets in his later years there, space travel remained his primary interest.
In 1930, von Braun attended a presentation given by Auguste Piccard. After the talk, the young student approached the famous pioneer of high-altitude balloon flight, and stated to him: "You know, I plan on traveling to the Moon at some time." Piccard is said to have responded with encouraging words. 
Von Braun was greatly influenced by Oberth, of whom he said:
Hermann Oberth was the first who, when thinking about the possibility of spaceships, grabbed a slide-rule and presented mathematically analyzed concepts and designs . I, myself, owe to him not only the guiding-star of my life, but also my first contact with the theoretical and practical aspects of rocketry and space travel. A place of honor should be reserved in the history of science and technology for his ground-breaking contributions in the field of astronautics. 
According to historian Norman Davies, von Braun was able to pursue a career as a rocket scientist in Germany due to a "curious oversight" in the Treaty of Versailles which did not include rocketry in its list of weapons forbidden to Germany. 
Involvement with the Nazi regime Edit
Nazi Party membership Edit
Von Braun had an ambivalent and complex relationship with the Nazi Third Reich.  He applied for membership of the Nazi Party on 12 November 1937, and was issued membership number 5,738,692.  : 96
Michael J. Neufeld, an author of aerospace history and chief of the Space History Division at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, wrote that ten years after von Braun obtained his Nazi Party membership, he signed an affidavit for the U.S. Army, though he stated the incorrect year:  : 96
In 1939, I was officially demanded to join the National Socialist Party. At this time I was already Technical Director at the Army Rocket Center at Peenemünde (Baltic Sea). The technical work carried out there had, in the meantime, attracted more and more attention in higher levels. Thus, my refusal to join the party would have meant that I would have to abandon the work of my life. Therefore, I decided to join. My membership in the party did not involve any political activity.
It has not been ascertained whether von Braun's error with regard to the year was deliberate or a simple mistake.  : 96 Neufeld further wrote:
Von Braun, like other Peenemünders, was assigned to the local group in Karlshagen there is no evidence that he did more than send in his monthly dues. But he is seen in some photographs with the party's swastika pin in his lapel – it was politically useful to demonstrate his membership.  : 96
Von Braun's later attitude toward the National Socialist regime of the late 1930s and early 1940s was complex. He said that he had been so influenced by the early Nazi promise of release from the post–World War I economic effects, that his patriotic feelings had increased. [ citation needed ] In a 1952 memoir article he admitted that, at that time, he "fared relatively rather well under totalitarianism".  : 96–97 Yet, he also wrote that "to us, Hitler was still only a pompous fool with a Charlie Chaplin moustache"  and that he perceived him as "another Napoleon" who was "wholly without scruples, a godless man who thought himself the only god". 
Membership in the Allgemeine-SS Edit
Von Braun joined the SS horseback riding school on 1 November 1933 as an SS-Anwärter. He left the following year. [ citation needed ] : 63 In 1940, he joined the SS  : 47  and was given the rank of Untersturmführer in the Allgemeine-SS and issued membership number 185,068. [ citation needed ] : 121 In 1947, he gave the U.S. War Department this explanation:
In spring 1940, one SS-Standartenführer (SS-Colonel) Müller from Greifswald, a bigger town in the vicinity of Peenemünde, looked me up in my office . and told me that Reichsführer-SS Himmler had sent him with the order to urge me to join the SS. I told him I was so busy with my rocket work that I had no time to spare for any political activity. He then told me, that . the SS would cost me no time at all. I would be awarded the rank of a[n] "Untersturmfuehrer" (lieutenant) and it were [sic] a very definite desire of Himmler that I attend his invitation to join.
I asked Müller to give me some time for reflection. He agreed.
Realizing that the matter was of highly political significance for the relation between the SS and the Army, I called immediately on my military superior, Dr. Dornberger. He informed me that the SS had for a long time been trying to get their "finger in the pie" of the rocket work. I asked him what to do. He replied on the spot that if I wanted to continue our mutual work, I had no alternative but to join.
When shown a picture of himself standing behind Himmler, von Braun claimed to have worn the SS uniform only that one time,  but in 2002 a former SS officer at Peenemünde told the BBC that von Braun had regularly worn the SS uniform to official meetings. He began as an Untersturmführer (Second lieutenant) and was promoted three times by Himmler, the last time in June 1943 to SS-Sturmbannführer (Major). Von Braun later claimed that these were simply technical promotions received each year regularly by mail. 
Work under Nazi regime Edit
In 1933, von Braun was working on his creative doctorate when the Nazi Party came to power in a coalition government in Germany rocketry was almost immediately moved onto the national agenda. An artillery captain, Walter Dornberger, arranged an Ordnance Department research grant for von Braun, who then worked next to Dornberger's existing solid-fuel rocket test site at Kummersdorf.
Von Braun was awarded a doctorate in physics  (aerospace engineering) on 27 July 1934, from the University of Berlin for a thesis entitled "About Combustion Tests" his doctoral supervisor was Erich Schumann.  : 61 However, this thesis was only the public part of von Braun's work. His actual full thesis, Construction, Theoretical, and Experimental Solution to the Problem of the Liquid Propellant Rocket (dated 16 April 1934) was kept classified by the German army, and was not published until 1960.  By the end of 1934, his group had successfully launched two liquid fuel rockets that rose to heights of 2.2 and 3.5 km (2 mi).
At the time, Germany was highly interested in American physicist Robert H. Goddard's research. Before 1939, German scientists occasionally contacted Goddard directly with technical questions. Von Braun used Goddard's plans from various journals and incorporated them into the building of the Aggregat (A) series of rockets. The first successful launch of an A-4 took place on 3 October 1942.  The A-4 rocket would become well known as the V-2.  In 1963, von Braun reflected on the history of rocketry, and said of Goddard's work: "His rockets . may have been rather crude by present-day standards, but they blazed the trail and incorporated many features used in our most modern rockets and space vehicles." 
Goddard confirmed his work was used by von Braun in 1944, shortly before the Nazis began firing V-2s at England. A V-2 crashed in Sweden and some parts were sent to an Annapolis lab where Goddard was doing research for the Navy. If this was the so-called Bäckebo Bomb, it had been procured by the British in exchange for Spitfires Annapolis would have received some parts from them. Goddard is reported to have recognized components he had invented, and inferred that his brainchild had been turned into a weapon.  Later, von Braun would comment: "I have very deep and sincere regret for the victims of the V-2 rockets, but there were victims on both sides . A war is a war, and when my country is at war, my duty is to help win that war." 
In response to Goddard's claims, von Braun said "at no time in Germany did I or any of my associates ever see a Goddard patent". This was independently confirmed.  He wrote that claims about his lifting Goddard's work were the furthest from the truth, noting that Goddard's paper "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes", which was studied by von Braun and Oberth, lacked the specificity of liquid-fuel experimentation with rockets.  It was also confirmed that he was responsible for an estimated 20 patentable innovations related to rocketry, as well as receiving U.S. patents after the war concerning the advancement of rocketry.  Documented accounts also stated he provided solutions to a host of aerospace engineering problems in the 1950s and 60s. 
There were no German rocket societies after the collapse of the VfR, and civilian rocket tests were forbidden by the new Nazi regime. Only military development was allowed, and to this end, a larger facility was erected at the village of Peenemünde in northern Germany on the Baltic Sea. Dornberger became the military commander at Peenemünde, with von Braun as technical director. In collaboration with the Luftwaffe, the Peenemünde group developed liquid-fuel rocket engines for aircraft and jet-assisted takeoffs. They also developed the long-range A-4 ballistic missile and the supersonic Wasserfall anti-aircraft missile.
On 22 December 1942, Adolf Hitler ordered the production of the A-4 as a "vengeance weapon", and the Peenemünde group developed it to target London. Following von Braun's 7 July 1943 presentation of a color movie showing an A-4 taking off, Hitler was so enthusiastic that he personally made von Braun a professor shortly thereafter.  In Germany at this time, this was an exceptional promotion for an engineer who was only 31 years old. [ original research? ]
By that time, the British and Soviet intelligence agencies were aware of the rocket program and von Braun's team at Peenemünde, based on the intelligence provided by the Polish underground Home Army. Over the nights of 17–18 August 1943, RAF Bomber Command's Operation Hydra dispatched raids on the Peenemünde camp consisting of 596 aircraft, and dropped 1,800 tons of explosives.  The facility was salvaged and most of the engineering team remained unharmed however, the raids killed von Braun's engine designer Walter Thiel and Chief Engineer Walther, and the rocket program was delayed.  
The first combat A-4, renamed the V-2 (Vergeltungswaffe 2 "Retaliation/Vengeance Weapon 2") for propaganda purposes, was launched toward England on 7 September 1944, only 21 months after the project had been officially commissioned. Von Braun's interest in rockets was specifically for the application of space travel, not for killing people.  Satirist Mort Sahl has been credited with mocking von Braun by saying "I aim at the stars, but sometimes I hit London."  That line appears in the film I Aim at the Stars, a 1960 biographical film of von Braun.
Experiments with rocket aircraft Edit
During 1936, von Braun's rocketry team working at Kummersdorf investigated installing liquid-fuelled rockets in aircraft. Ernst Heinkel enthusiastically supported their efforts, supplying a He-72 and later two He-112s for the experiments. Later in 1936, Erich Warsitz was seconded by the RLM to von Braun and Heinkel, because he had been recognized as one of the most experienced test pilots of the time, and because he also had an extraordinary fund of technical knowledge.  : 30 After he familiarized Warsitz with a test-stand run, showing him the corresponding apparatus in the aircraft, he asked: "Are you with us and will you test the rocket in the air? Then, Warsitz, you will be a famous man. And later we will fly to the Moon – with you at the helm!"  : 35
In June 1937, at Neuhardenberg (a large field about 70 km (43 mi) east of Berlin, listed as a reserve airfield in the event of war), one of these latter aircraft was flown with its piston engine shut down during flight by Warsitz, at which time it was propelled by von Braun's rocket power alone. Despite a wheels-up landing and the fuselage having been on fire, it proved to official circles that an aircraft could be flown satisfactorily with a back-thrust system through the rear.  : 51
At the same time, Hellmuth Walter's experiments into hydrogen peroxide based rockets were leading towards light and simple rockets that appeared well-suited for aircraft installation. Also the firm of Hellmuth Walter at Kiel had been commissioned by the RLM to build a rocket engine for the He-112, so there were two different new rocket motor designs at Neuhardenberg: whereas von Braun's engines were powered by alcohol and liquid oxygen, Walter engines had hydrogen peroxide and calcium permanganate as a catalyst. Von Braun's engines used direct combustion and created fire, the Walter devices used hot vapors from a chemical reaction, but both created thrust and provided high speed.  : 41 The subsequent flights with the He-112 used the Walter-rocket instead of von Braun's it was more reliable, simpler to operate, and safer for the test pilot, Warsitz.  : 55
Slave labor Edit
SS General Hans Kammler, who as an engineer had constructed several concentration camps, including Auschwitz, had a reputation for brutality and had originated the idea of using concentration camp prisoners as slave laborers in the rocket program. Arthur Rudolph, chief engineer of the V-2 rocket factory at Peenemünde, endorsed this idea in April 1943 when a labor shortage developed. More people died building the V-2 rockets than were killed by it as a weapon.  Von Braun admitted visiting the plant at Mittelwerk on many occasions,  and called conditions at the plant "repulsive", but claimed never to have personally witnessed any deaths or beatings, although it had become clear to him by 1944 that deaths had occurred.  He denied ever having visited the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp itself, where 20,000 died from illness, beatings, hangings, and intolerable working conditions. 
Some prisoners claim von Braun engaged in brutal treatment or approved of it. Guy Morand, a French resistance fighter who was a prisoner in Dora, testified in 1995 that after an apparent sabotage attempt, von Braun ordered a prisoner to be flogged,  while Robert Cazabonne, another French prisoner, claimed von Braun stood by as prisoners were hanged by chains suspended by cranes.  : 123–124 However, these accounts may have been a case of mistaken identity.  Former Buchenwald inmate Adam Cabala claims that von Braun went to the concentration camp to pick slave laborers:
. also the German scientists led by Prof. Wernher von Braun were aware of everything daily. As they went along the corridors, they saw the exhaustion of the inmates, their arduous work and their pain. Not one single time did Prof. Wernher von Braun protest against this cruelty during his frequent stays at Dora. Even the aspect of corpses did not touch him: On a small area near the ambulance shed, inmates tortured to death by slave labor and the terror of the overseers were piling up daily. But, Prof. Wernher von Braun passed them so close that he was almost touching the corpses. 
Von Braun later claimed that he was aware of the treatment of prisoners, but felt helpless to change the situation. 
Arrest and release by the Nazi regime Edit
According to André Sellier, a French historian and survivor of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, Heinrich Himmler had von Braun come to his Feldkommandostelle Hochwald HQ in East Prussia in February 1944.  To increase his power-base within the Nazi regime, Himmler was conspiring to use Kammler to gain control of all German armament programs, including the V-2 program at Peenemünde.  : 38–40 He therefore recommended that von Braun work more closely with Kammler to solve the problems of the V-2. Von Braun claimed to have replied that the problems were merely technical and he was confident that they would be solved with Dornberger's assistance.
Von Braun had been under SD surveillance since October 1943. A secret report stated that he and his colleagues Klaus Riedel and Helmut Gröttrup were said to have expressed regret at an engineer's house one evening in early March 1944 that they were not working on a spaceship  and that they felt the war was not going well this was considered a "defeatist" attitude. A young female dentist who was an SS spy reported their comments.  : 38–40 Combined with Himmler's false charges that von Braun and his colleagues were communist sympathizers and had attempted to sabotage the V-2 program, and considering that von Braun regularly piloted his government-provided airplane that might allow him to escape to Britain, this led to their arrest by the Gestapo.  : 38–40
The unsuspecting von Braun was detained on 14 March (or 15 March),  1944, and was taken to a Gestapo cell in Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland),  : 38–40 where he was held for two weeks without knowing the charges against him.
Through Major Hans Georg Klamroth, in charge of the Abwehr for Peenemünde, Dornberger obtained von Braun's conditional release and Albert Speer, Reichsminister for Munitions and War Production, persuaded Hitler to reinstate von Braun so that the V-2 program could continue   : 38–40  or turn into a "V-4 program" (the Rheinbote as a short range ballistic rocket) which in their view would be impossible without von Braun's leadership.  In his memoirs, Speer states Hitler had finally conceded that von Braun was to be "protected from all prosecution as long as he is indispensable, difficult though the general consequences arising from the situation." 
Surrender to the Americans Edit
The Soviet Army was about 160 km (100 mi) from Peenemünde in early 1945 when von Braun assembled his planning staff and asked them to decide how and to whom they should surrender. Unwilling to go to the Soviets, von Braun and his staff decided to try to surrender to the Americans. Kammler had ordered relocation of his team to central Germany however, a conflicting order from an army chief ordered them to join the army and fight. Deciding that Kammler's order was their best bet to defect to the Americans, von Braun fabricated documents and transported 500 of his affiliates to the area around Mittelwerk, where they resumed their work in Bleicherode and surrounding towns after the middle of February 1945. For fear of their documents being destroyed by the SS, von Braun ordered the blueprints to be hidden in an abandoned iron mine in the Harz mountain range near Goslar.  The US Counterintelligence Corps managed to unveil the location after lengthy interrogations of von Braun, Walter Dornberger, Bernhard Tessmann and Dieter Huzel and recovered 14 tons of V-2 documents by 15 May 1945, from the British Occupation Zone.  
While on an official trip in March, von Braun suffered a complicated fracture of his left arm and shoulder in a car accident after his driver fell asleep at the wheel. His injuries were serious, but he insisted that his arm be set in a cast so he could leave the hospital. Due to this neglect of the injury he had to be hospitalized again a month later where his bones had to be rebroken and realigned. 
In early April, as the Allied forces advanced deeper into Germany, Kammler ordered the engineering team, around 450 specialists, to be moved by train into the town of Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps, where they were closely guarded by the SS with orders to execute the team if they were about to fall into enemy hands. However, von Braun managed to convince SS Major Kummer to order the dispersal of the group into nearby villages so that they would not be an easy target for U.S. bombers.  On 29 April 1945, Oberammergau was captured by the Allied forces who seized the majority of the engineering team.
Von Braun and several members of the engineering team, including Dornberger, made it to Austria.  On 2 May 1945, upon finding an American private from the U.S. 44th Infantry Division, von Braun's brother and fellow rocket engineer, Magnus, approached the soldier on a bicycle, calling out in broken English: "My name is Magnus von Braun. My brother invented the V-2. We want to surrender."   After the surrender, Wernher von Braun spoke to the press:
We knew that we had created a new means of warfare, and the question as to what nation, to what victorious nation we were willing to entrust this brainchild of ours was a moral decision more than anything else. We wanted to see the world spared another conflict such as Germany had just been through, and we felt that only by surrendering such a weapon to people who are guided not by the laws of materialism but by Christianity and humanity could such an assurance to the world be best secured. 
The American high command was well aware of how important their catch was: von Braun had been at the top of the Black List, the code name for the list of German scientists and engineers targeted for immediate interrogation by U.S. military experts. On 9 June 1945, two days before the originally scheduled handover of the Nordhausen and Bleicherode area in Thuringia to the Soviets, U.S. Army Major Robert B. Staver, Chief of the Jet Propulsion Section of the Research and Intelligence Branch of the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps in London, and Lt Col R. L. Williams took von Braun and his department chiefs by Jeep from Garmisch to Munich, from where they were flown to Nordhausen. On the following days, a larger group of rocket engineers, among them Helmut Gröttrup, was evacuated from Bleicherode 40 miles (64 km) southwest to Witzenhausen, a small town in the American Zone.  The Red Army eventually took over Thuringia as part of the Soviet occupation zone after 1 July 1945, as agreed by the Yalta Conference.
Von Braun was briefly detained at the "Dustbin" interrogation center at Kransberg Castle, where the elite of the Third Reich's economic, scientific and technological sectors were debriefed by U.S. and British intelligence officials.  Initially, he was recruited to the U.S. under a program called Operation Overcast, subsequently known as Operation Paperclip. There is evidence, however, that British intelligence and scientists were the first to interview him in depth, eager to gain information that they knew U.S. officials would deny them. [ citation needed ] The team included the young L.S. Snell, then the leading British rocket engineer, later chief designer of Rolls-Royce Limited and inventor of the Concorde's engines. The specific information the British gleaned remained top secret, both from the Americans and from the other allies. [ citation needed ]
U.S. Army career Edit
On 20 June 1945, U.S. Secretary of State Edward Stettinius Jr. approved the transfer of von Braun and his specialists to the United States as one of his last acts in office however, this was not announced to the public until 1 October 1945. 
The first seven technicians arrived in the United States at New Castle Army Air Field, just south of Wilmington, Delaware, on 20 September 1945. They were then flown to Boston and taken by boat to the Army Intelligence Service post at Fort Strong in Boston Harbor. Later, with the exception of von Braun, the men were transferred to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to sort out the Peenemünde documents, enabling the scientists to continue their rocketry experiments. 
Finally, von Braun and his remaining Peenemünde staff (see List of German rocket scientists in the United States) were transferred to their new home at Fort Bliss, a large Army installation just north of El Paso. Von Braun would later write he found it hard to develop a "genuine emotional attachment" to his new surroundings.  His chief design engineer Walther Reidel became the subject of a December 1946 article "German Scientist Says American Cooking Tasteless Dislikes Rubberized Chicken", exposing the presence of von Braun's team in the country and drawing criticism from Albert Einstein and John Dingell.  Requests to improve their living conditions such as laying linoleum over their cracked wood flooring were rejected.  Von Braun remarked, "at Peenemünde we had been coddled, here you were counting pennies".  Whereas von Braun had thousands of engineers who answered to him at Peenemünde, he was now subordinate to "pimply" 26-year-old Jim Hamill, an Army major who possessed only an undergraduate degree in engineering.  His loyal Germans still addressed him as "Herr Professor," but Hamill addressed him as "Wernher" and never responded to von Braun's request for more materials. Every proposal for new rocket ideas was dismissed. 
While at Fort Bliss, they trained military, industrial, and university personnel in the intricacies of rockets and guided missiles. As part of the Hermes project, they helped refurbish, assemble, and launch a number of V-2s that had been shipped from Germany to the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico. They also continued to study the future potential of rockets for military and research applications. Since they were not permitted to leave Fort Bliss without military escort, von Braun and his colleagues began to refer to themselves only half-jokingly as "PoPs" – "Prisoners of Peace". 
In 1950, at the start of the Korean War, von Braun and his team were transferred to Huntsville, Alabama, his home for the next 20 years. Between 1952 and 1956,  von Braun led the Army's rocket development team at Redstone Arsenal, resulting in the Redstone rocket, which was used for the first live nuclear ballistic missile tests conducted by the United States. He personally witnessed this historic launch and detonation.  Work on the Redstone led to development of the first high-precision inertial guidance system on the Redstone rocket. 
As director of the Development Operations Division of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, von Braun, with his team, then developed the Jupiter-C, a modified Redstone rocket.  The Jupiter-C successfully launched the West's first satellite, Explorer 1, on 31 January 1958. This event signaled the birth of America's space program.
Despite the work on the Redstone rocket, the 12 years from 1945 to 1957 were probably some of the most frustrating for von Braun and his colleagues. In the Soviet Union, Sergei Korolev and his team of scientists and engineers plowed ahead with several new rocket designs and the Sputnik program, while the American government was not very interested in von Braun's work or views and embarked only on a very modest rocket-building program. In the meantime, the press called attention to von Braun's past as a member of the SS and the slave labor used to build his V-2 rockets. [ citation needed ]
Popular concepts for a human presence in space Edit
Repeating the pattern he had established during his earlier career in Germany, von Braun – while directing military rocket development in the real world – continued to entertain his engineer-scientist's dream of a future in which rockets would be used for space exploration. However, he was no longer at risk of being sacked – as American public opinion of Germans began to recover, von Braun found himself increasingly in a position to popularize his ideas. The 14 May 1950 headline of The Huntsville Times ("Dr. von Braun Says Rocket Flights Possible to Moon") might have marked the beginning of these efforts. Von Braun's ideas rode a publicity wave that was created by science fiction movies and stories.
In 1952, von Braun first published his concept of a crewed space station in a Collier's Weekly magazine series of articles titled "Man Will Conquer Space Soon!". These articles were illustrated by the space artist Chesley Bonestell and were influential in spreading his ideas. Frequently, von Braun worked with fellow German-born space advocate and science writer Willy Ley to publish his concepts, which, unsurprisingly, were heavy on the engineering side and anticipated many technical aspects of space flight that later became reality.
The space station (to be constructed using rockets with recoverable and reusable ascent stages) would be a toroid structure, with a diameter of 250 feet (76 m) this built on the concept of a rotating wheel-shaped station introduced in 1929 by Herman Potočnik in his book The Problem of Space Travel – The Rocket Motor. The space station would spin around a central docking nave to provide artificial gravity, and would be assembled in a 1,075-mile (1,730 km) two-hour, high-inclination Earth orbit allowing observation of essentially every point on Earth on at least a daily basis. The ultimate purpose of the space station would be to provide an assembly platform for crewed lunar expeditions. More than a decade later, the movie version of 2001: A Space Odyssey would draw heavily on the design concept in its visualization of an orbital space station.
Von Braun envisioned these expeditions as very large-scale undertakings, with a total of 50 astronauts traveling in three huge spacecraft (two for crew, one primarily for cargo), each 49 m (160.76 ft) long and 33 m (108.27 ft) in diameter and driven by a rectangular array of 30 rocket propulsion engines.  Upon arrival, astronauts would establish a permanent lunar base in the Sinus Roris region by using the emptied cargo holds of their craft as shelters, and would explore their surroundings for eight weeks. This would include a 400 km (249 mi) expedition in pressurized rovers to the crater Harpalus and the Mare Imbrium foothills.
At this time, von Braun also worked out preliminary concepts for a human mission to Mars that used the space station as a staging point. His initial plans, published in The Mars Project (1952), had envisaged a fleet of 10 spacecraft (each with a mass of 3,720 metric tonnes), three of them uncrewed and each carrying one 200-tonne winged lander  in addition to cargo, and nine crew vehicles transporting a total of 70 astronauts. The engineering and astronautical parameters of this gigantic mission were thoroughly calculated. A later project was much more modest, using only one purely orbital cargo ship and one crewed craft. In each case, the expedition would use minimum-energy Hohmann transfer orbits for its trips to Mars and back to Earth.
Before technically formalizing his thoughts on human spaceflight to Mars, von Braun had written a science fiction novel on the subject, set in the year 1980. However, the manuscript was rejected by no fewer than 18 publishers.  Von Braun later published small portions of this opus in magazines, to illustrate selected aspects of his Mars project popularizations. The complete manuscript, titled Project Mars: A Technical Tale, did not appear as a printed book until December 2006. 
In the hope that its involvement would bring about greater public interest in the future of the space program, von Braun also began working with Walt Disney and the Disney studios as a technical director, initially for three television films about space exploration. The initial broadcast devoted to space exploration was Man in Space, which first went on air on 9 March 1955, drawing 40 million viewers.   
Later (in 1959) von Braun published a short booklet, condensed from episodes that had appeared in This Week Magazine before—describing his updated concept of the first crewed lunar landing.  The scenario included only a single and relatively small spacecraft—a winged lander with a crew of only two experienced pilots who had already circumnavigated the Moon on an earlier mission. The brute-force direct ascent flight schedule used a rocket design with five sequential stages, loosely based on the Nova designs that were under discussion at this time. After a night launch from a Pacific island, the first three stages would bring the spacecraft (with the two remaining upper stages attached) to terrestrial escape velocity, with each burn creating an acceleration of 8–9 times standard gravity. Residual propellant in the third stage would be used for the deceleration intended to commence only a few hundred kilometers above the landing site in a crater near the lunar north pole. The fourth stage provided acceleration to lunar escape velocity, while the fifth stage would be responsible for a deceleration during return to the Earth to a residual speed that allows aerocapture of the spacecraft ending in a runway landing, much in the way of the Space Shuttle. One remarkable feature of this technical tale is that the engineer von Braun anticipated a medical phenomenon that would become apparent only years later: being a veteran astronaut with no history of serious adverse reactions to weightlessness offers no protection against becoming unexpectedly and violently spacesick. [ check quotation syntax ]
Religious conversion Edit
In the first half of his life, von Braun was a nonpracticing, "perfunctory" Lutheran, whose affiliation was nominal and not taken seriously.  As described by Ernst Stuhlinger and Frederick I. Ordway III: "Throughout his younger years, von Braun did not show signs of religious devotion, or even an interest in things related to the church or to biblical teachings. In fact, he was known to his friends as a 'merry heathen' (fröhlicher Heide)."  Nevertheless, in 1945 he explained his decision to surrender to the Western Allies, rather than Russians, as being influenced by a desire to share rocket technology with people who followed the Bible. In 1946,  : 469 he attended church in El Paso, Texas, and underwent a religious conversion to evangelical Christianity.  In an unnamed religious magazine he stated:
One day in Fort Bliss, a neighbor called and asked if I would like to go to church with him. I accepted, because I wanted to see if the American church was just a country club as I'd been led to expect. Instead, I found a small, white frame building . in the hot Texas sun on a browned-grass lot . Together, these people make a live, vibrant community. This was the first time I really understood that religion was not a cathedral inherited from the past, or a quick prayer at the last minute. To be effective, a religion has to be backed up by discipline and effort.
On the motives behind this conversion, Michael J. Neufeld is of the opinion that he turned to religion "to pacify his own conscience",  whereas University of Southampton scholar Kendrick Oliver said that von Braun was presumably moved "by a desire to find a new direction for his life after the moral chaos of his service for the Third Reich".  Having "concluded one bad bargain with the Devil, perhaps now he felt a need to have God securely at his side". 
Later in life, he joined an Episcopal congregation,  and became increasingly religious.  He publicly spoke and wrote about the complementarity of science and religion, the afterlife of the soul, and his belief in God.   He stated, "Through science man strives to learn more of the mysteries of creation. Through religion he seeks to know the Creator."  He was interviewed by the Assemblies of God pastor C. M. Ward, as stating, "The farther we probe into space, the greater my faith."  In addition, he met privately with evangelist Billy Graham and with the pacifist leader Martin Luther King Jr. 
Concepts for orbital warfare Edit
Von Braun developed and published his space station concept during the time of the Cold War when the U.S. government put the containment of the Soviet Union above everything else. The fact that his space station – if armed with missiles that could be easily adapted from those already available at this time – would give the United States space superiority in both orbital and orbit-to-ground warfare did not escape him. In his popular writings, von Braun elaborated on them in several of his books and articles, but he took care to qualify such military applications as "particularly dreadful". This much-less-peaceful aspect of von Braun's "drive for space" has been reviewed by Michael J. Neufeld from the Space History Division of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. 
NASA career Edit
The U.S. Navy had been tasked with building a rocket to lift satellites into orbit, but the resulting Vanguard rocket launch system was unreliable. In 1957, with the launch of Sputnik 1, a growing belief within the United States existed that it was lagging behind the Soviet Union in the emerging Space Race. American authorities then chose to use von Braun and his German team's experience with missiles to create an orbital launch vehicle. Von Braun had originally proposed such an idea in 1954, but it was denied at the time. 
NASA was established by law on 29 July 1958. One day later, the 50th Redstone rocket was successfully launched from Johnston Atoll in the south Pacific as part of Operation Hardtack I. Two years later, NASA opened the Marshall Space Flight Center at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) development team led by von Braun was transferred to NASA. In a face-to-face meeting with Herb York at the Pentagon, von Braun made it clear he would go to NASA only if development of the Saturn were allowed to continue.  Von Braun became the center's first director on 1 July 1960 and held the position until 27 January 1970. 
Von Braun's early years at NASA included a failed "four-inch flight" during which the first uncrewed Mercury-Redstone rocket only rose a few inches before settling back onto the launch pad. The launch failure was later determined to be the result of a "power plug with one prong shorter than the other because a worker filed it to make it fit". Because of the difference in the length of one prong, the launch system detected the difference in the power disconnection as a "cut-off signal to the engine". The system stopped the launch, and the incident created a "nadir of morale in Project Mercury". 
After the flight of Mercury-Redstone 2 in January 1961 experienced a string of problems, von Braun insisted on one more test before the Redstone could be deemed man-rated. His overly cautious nature brought about clashes with other people involved in the program, who argued that MR-2's technical issues were simple and had been resolved shortly after the flight. He overruled them, so a test mission involving a Redstone on a boilerplate capsule was flown successfully in March. Von Braun's stubbornness was blamed for the inability of the U.S. to launch a crewed space mission before the Soviet Union, which ended up putting the first man in space the following month.  Three weeks later on 5 May, von Braun's team successfully launched Alan Shepard into space. He named his Mercury-Redstone 3 Freedom 7 
The Marshall Center's first major program was the development of Saturn rockets to carry heavy payloads into and beyond Earth orbit. From this, the Apollo program for crewed Moon flights was developed. Von Braun initially pushed for a flight engineering concept that called for an Earth orbit rendezvous technique (the approach he had argued for building his space station), but in 1962, he converted to the lunar orbit rendezvous concept that was subsequently realized.   During Apollo, he worked closely with former Peenemünde teammate, Kurt H. Debus, the first director of the Kennedy Space Center. His dream to help mankind set foot on the Moon became a reality on 16 July 1969, when a Marshall-developed Saturn V rocket launched the crew of Apollo 11 on its historic eight-day mission. Over the course of the program, Saturn V rockets enabled six teams of astronauts to reach the surface of the Moon.
During the late 1960s, von Braun was instrumental in the development of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. The desk from which he guided America's entry in the space race remains on display there. He also was instrumental in the launching of the experimental Applications Technology Satellite. He traveled to India and hoped that the program would be helpful for bringing a massive educational television project to help the poorest people in that country. 
During the local summer of 1966–67, von Braun participated in a field trip to Antarctica, organized for him and several other members of top NASA management.  The goal of the field trip was to determine whether the experience gained by U.S. scientific and technological community during the exploration of Antarctic wastelands would be useful for the crewed exploration of space. Von Braun was mainly interested in management of the scientific effort on Antarctic research stations, logistics, habitation, and life support, and in using the barren Antarctic terrain like the glacial dry valleys to test the equipment that one day would be used to look for signs of life on Mars and other worlds. 
In an internal memo dated 16 January 1969,  von Braun had confirmed to his staff that he would stay on as a center director at Huntsville to head the Apollo Applications Program. He referred to this time as a moment in his life when he felt the strong need to pray, stating "I certainly prayed a lot before and during the crucial Apollo flights".  A few months later, on occasion of the first Moon landing, he publicly expressed his optimism that the Saturn V carrier system would continue to be developed, advocating human missions to Mars in the 1980s. 
Nonetheless, on 1 March 1970, von Braun and his family relocated to Washington, DC, when he was assigned the post of NASA's Deputy Associate Administrator for Planning at NASA Headquarters. After a series of conflicts associated with the truncation of the Apollo program, and facing severe budget constraints, von Braun retired from NASA on 26 May 1972. Not only had it become evident by this time that NASA and his visions for future U.S. space flight projects were incompatible, but also it was perhaps even more frustrating for him to see popular support for a continued presence of man in space wane dramatically once the goal to reach the Moon had been accomplished.
Von Braun also developed the idea of a Space Camp that would train children in fields of science and space technologies, as well as help their mental development much the same way sports camps aim at improving physical development.  : 354–355 
Career after NASA Edit
After leaving NASA, von Braun became Vice President for Engineering and Development at the aerospace company Fairchild Industries in Germantown, Maryland, on 1 July 1972. 
In 1973, during a routine physical examination, von Braun was diagnosed with kidney cancer, which could not be controlled with the medical techniques available at the time.  Von Braun continued his work to the extent possible, which included accepting invitations to speak at colleges and universities, as he was eager to cultivate interest in human spaceflight and rocketry, particularly his desire to encourage the next generation of aerospace engineers.
Von Braun helped establish and promote the National Space Institute, a precursor of the present-day National Space Society, in 1975, and became its first president and chairman. In 1976, he became scientific consultant to Lutz Kayser, the CEO of OTRAG, and a member of the Daimler-Benz board of directors. However, his deteriorating health forced him to retire from Fairchild on 31 December 1976. When the 1975 National Medal of Science was awarded to him in early 1977, he was hospitalized, and unable to attend the White House ceremony.
Von Braun's insistence on further tests after Mercury-Redstone 2 flew higher than planned has been identified as contributing to the Soviet Union's success in launching the first human in space.  The Mercury-Redstone BD flight was successful, but took up the launch slot that could have put Alan Shepard into space three weeks ahead of Yuri Gagarin. His Soviet counterpart Sergei Korolev insisted on two successful flights with dogs before risking Gagarin's life on a crewed attempt. The second test flight took place one day after the Mercury-Redstone BD mission. 
Von Braun took a very conservative approach to engineering, designing with ample safety factors and redundant structure. This became a point of contention with other engineers, who struggled to keep vehicle weight down so that payload could be maximized. As noted above, his excessive caution likely led to the U.S. losing the race to put a man into space with the Soviets. Krafft Ehricke likened von Braun's approach to building the Brooklyn Bridge.  : 208 Many at NASA headquarters jokingly referred to Marshall as the "Chicago Bridge and Iron Works", but acknowledged that the designs worked.  The conservative approach paid off when a fifth engine was added to the Saturn C-4, producing the Saturn V. The C-4 design had a large crossbeam that could easily absorb the thrust of an additional engine.  : 371
Von Braun had a charismatic personality and was known as a ladies' man. As a student in Berlin, he would often be seen in the evenings in the company of two girlfriends at once.  : 63 He later had a succession of affairs within the secretarial and computer pool at Peenemünde.  : 92–94
According to a 2015 book The Hidden World Part 2, von Braun had a secret relationship with another test pilot and ardent Nazi, Hanna Reitsch, and in 1932 the pair had a child, Alicia Webber. She also had a relationship with the already married, German-born Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, who in turn fathered Webber's daughter, Alicia von Bielefeld (born ( 1952-02-21 ) 21 February 1952). 
In January 1943, von Braun became engaged to Dorothee Brill, a physical education teacher in Berlin, and he sought permission to marry from the SS Race and Settlement Office. However, the engagement was broken due to his mother's opposition.  : 146–147 Later in 1943 he had an affair with a French woman while in Paris preparing V-2 launch sites in northeastern France. She was imprisoned for collaboration after the war and became destitute.  : 147–148
During his stay at Fort Bliss, von Braun proposed marriage to Maria Luise von Quistorp (born ( 1928-06-10 ) 10 June 1928), his maternal first cousin, in a letter to his father. He married her in a Lutheran church in Landshut, Bavaria on 1 March 1947, having received permission to go back to Germany and return with his bride. He was 35 and his new bride was 18.  Shortly after, he became an evangelical Christian. He returned to New York on 26 March 1947, with his wife, father, and mother. On 8 December 1948, the von Brauns' first daughter together Iris Careen was born at Fort Bliss Army Hospital.  The couple had two more children: Margrit Cécile, born 8 May 1952,  and Peter Constantine, born 2 June 1960. 
On 15 April 1955, von Braun became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
In 1973, von Braun was diagnosed with kidney cancer during a routine medical examination. However, he continued to work unrestrained for a number of years. In January 1977, now very ill, he resigned from Fairchild Industries. Later in 1977, President Gerald Ford awarded him the country's highest science honor, the National Medal of Science in Engineering. He was, however, too ill to attend the White House ceremony. 
Von Braun died on 16 June 1977 of pancreatic cancer in Alexandria, Virginia at age 65.   He is buried on Valley Road at the Ivy Hill Cemetery. His gravestone cites Psalm 19:1: "The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth his handywork" (KJV). 
- director Sam Phillips was quoted as saying that he did not think that the United States would have reached the Moon as quickly as it did without von Braun's help. Later, after discussing it with colleagues, he amended this to say that he did not believe the United States would have reached the Moon at all.  : 167
- In a TV interview on the occasion of the US Moon landing in July 1969, Helmut Gröttrup, staff member in Peenemünde and later head of the German collective in the Soviet rocketry program, set up the thesis that automatic space probes can get the same amount of scientific data with an effort of only 10 or 20 percent of the costs, and that the money should be better spent on other purposes. Von Braun justified the expenses for manned operations with the following argument: "I think somehow space flights for the first time give mankind a chance to become immortal. Once this earth will no longer be able to support life we can emigrate to other places which are better suited for our life." 
- The von Braun crater on the Moon is named after him.
- Von Braun received a total of 12 honorary doctorates among them, on 8 January 1963, one from the Technical University of Berlin, from which he had graduated.
- Von Braun was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1967 for designing and developing rockets and missiles.
- In Huntsville, Alabama:
- Von Braun was responsible for the creation of the Research Institute at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. As a result of his vision, the university is one of the leading universities in the nation for NASA-sponsored research. The building housing the university's Research Institute was named in his honor, Von Braun Research Hall, in 2000.
- The Von Braun Center (built in 1975) in Huntsville is named in von Braun's honor.
- The Von Braun Astronomical Society in Huntsville was founded as the Rocket City Astronomical Association by von Braun and was later renamed after him.
Dates of rank Edit
- SS-Anwärter: 1 November 1933 (Candidate received rank upon joining SS Riding School)
- SS-Mann: July 1934 (Private)
(left SS after graduation from the school commissioned in 1940 with date of entry backdated to 1934)
- SS-Untersturmführer: 1 May 1940 (Second Lieutenant)
- SS-Obersturmführer: 9 November 1941 (First Lieutenant)
- SS-Hauptsturmführer: 9 November 1942 (Captain)
- SS-Sturmbannführer: 28 June 1943 (Major) 
- , First Class with Swords in 1943 in 1944
- Elected Honorary Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society in 1949 
- Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1959 in 1962 
- Inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame in 1965  in 1967 
- Inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1969 in 1969.  in 1975 in 1975
- Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement in 1975  World Citizenship Award in 1970  (1982) 
- in 1969
Film and television Von Braun has been featured in a number of films and television shows or series:
Von Braun, Wernher
Dr. Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun (March 23, 1912 &ndash June 16, 1977) was one of the leading figures in the development of rocket technology in Germany and the United States. Originally a German scientist who led Germany&rsquos rocket development program before and during World War II, he entered the United States at the end of the war through the then-secret Operation Paperclip. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen and worked on the American ICBM program before joining NASA, where he served as Director. The space architect is credited with inventing the V-2 rocket for Nazi Germany and the Saturn V for the United States. He is generally regarded as the father of the United States space program.
Wernher von Braun was born in Wirsitz, Province of Posen (now Poland). Upon his Lutheran confirmation his mother gave him a telescope, and he discovered a passion for astronomy and the realm of space. When, as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, Wirsitz became part of Poland in 1920, his family, like many other German families, moved. They settled in Berlin where at first von Braun did not do well in physics and mathematics until he acquired a copy of the book Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (The Rocket into Interplanetary Space) by rocket pioneer Hermann Oberth. From then on he applied himself at school in order to understand physics and mathematics. One anecdote from this period is the time the 12-year-old von Braun, when inspired by the legend of Wan Hu, caused a major disruption by firing off a toy wagon to which he had attached a number of firecrackers. The young von Braun was taken into custody by the local police until his father came to collect him.
In 1930 von Braun attended the Berlin Institute of Technology where he joined the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR, the &ldquoSpaceflight Society&rdquo) and assisted Oberth in liquid-fuelled rocket motor tests. After receiving his degree he commenced postgraduate studies at Technical University of Berlin, earning a doctorate in physics (aerospace engineering) on July 27, 1934.
The Nazi rocketeer
While von Braun was working on his doctorate, a young artillery captain, Walter Dornberger, arranged an Ordnance Department research grant for him, and von Braun then worked next to Dornberger&rsquos existing solid-fuel rocket test site at Kummersdorf. He received his doctorate two years later and by the end of 1934 his group had successfully launched two rockets that rose to heights of 2.2 and 3.5 kilometres.
At that time, however, there was no German rocket society, as the VfR had collapsed and civilian rocket tests had been forbidden by the new Nazi regime. Only military development was possible and to this end a larger facility was erected at the village of Peenem ü nde in northern Germany on the Baltic Sea. This location was chosen partly on the recommendation of von Braun&rsquos mother, who recalled her father&rsquos duck-hunting expeditions there. Dornberger became military commander at Peenem ü nde and von Braun was technical director. In collaboration with the Luftwaffe, the Peenem ü nde group developed liquid-fuel rocket engines for aircraft and jet-assisted takeoffs. They also developed the long-range A-4 ballistic missile (later renamed the V-2) and the supersonic Wasserfall anti-aircraft missile.
In November 1937 (other sources: December 1, 1932) von Braun joined the Nazi Party. An OMGUS (Office of Military Government, United States) document dated April 23, 1947 states that von Braun joined the SS (Schutzstaffel) horseback riding school in 1933, then the Nazi Party on May 1, 1937 and became an officer in the SS from May 1940 to the end of the war.
Amongst his comments about his Nazi membership von Braun has said:
&ldquoI was officially demanded to join the National Socialist Party. At this time (1937) I was already technical director of the Army Rocket Center at Peenem ü nde &hellip My refusal to join the party would have meant that I would have to abandon the work of my life. Therefore, I decided to join. My membership in the party did not involve any political activities &hellip in Spring 1940, one SS-Standartenf ü hrer (SS Colonel) M ü ller &hellip looked me up in my office at Peenem ü nde and told me that Reichsf ü hrer-SS Heinrich Himmler had sent him with the order to urge me to join the SS. I called immediately on my military superior &hellip Major-General W. Dornberger. He informed me that &hellip if I wanted to continue our mutual work, I had no alternative but to join.&rdquo
That claim has been often disputed because in 1940 the SS had shown no interest in Peenem ü nde yet and there exists no other evidence that pressure was ever used to make people like Von Braun join the Nazi party, let alone the SS. Von Braun claimed to have worn the SS uniform only once . He began as an Untersturmf ü hrer (Second Lieutenant) and was promoted three times by Himmler, the last time in June 1943 to SS-Sturmbannf ü hrer (Wehrmacht Major).
In November 1942 Adolf Hitler approved the production of the A-4 as a &ldquovengeance weapon&rdquo and the group developed the A-4 to rain explosives on London. Twenty-two months after Hitler ordered it into production, the first combat A-4, now renamed the V-2 (&ldquoVergeltungswaffe 2&rdquo, &ldquoRetaliation/Vengeance Weapon 2&rdquo), was launched toward England, on September 7, 1944.
SS General Hans Kammler, who as an engineer had constructed several concentration camps including Auschwitz, had a reputation for brutality and had originated the idea of using concentration camp prisoners as slave laborers in the rocket program. Arthur Rudolph, chief engineer of the V-2 rocket factory at Peenem ü nde, endorsed this idea in April 1943 when a labor shortage developed. More people died building the V-2 rockets than were killed by it as a weapon. Von Braun admitted visiting the plant at Mittelwerk on many occasions, and called conditions at the plant &ldquorepulsive&rdquo, but claimed never to have witnessed first-hand any deaths or beatings, although it became clear to him that deaths had occurred by 1944 . He denied ever visiting the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp itself.
Adam Cabala reported: &ldquo[&hellip] the German scientists led by Prof. Wernher von Braun also saw everything that went on every day. When they walked along the corridors, they saw the prisoners&rsquo drudgery, their exhausting work and their ordeal. During his frequent attendance in Dora, Prof. Wernher von Braun never once protested against this cruelty and brutality.&rdquo and &ldquoOn a little area beside the clinic shack you could see piles of prisoners every day who had not survived the workload and had been tortured to death by the vindictive guards. [&hellip] But Prof. Wernher von Braun just walked past them, so close that he almost touched the bodies.&rdquo
On August 15, 1944, von Braun wrote a letter (Ref 7) to Albin Sawatzki, manager of the V-2 production, admitting that he personally picked labor slaves from the Buchenwald concentration camp, which, he admitted 25 years later in an interview, had been in a &ldquopitiful shape&rdquo.
Arrest by the Nazi regime
There are three different versions of von Braun&rsquos arrest. Andre Sellier, a French historian and survivor of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, offers as good an explanation as any. Himmler called von Braun, an SS officer, to come to his Hochwald HQ in East Prussia sometime in February 1944. To increase his power-base within the Nazi regime, Heinrich Himmler was conspiring to use Kammler to wrest control of all German armament programs, including the V-2 program at Peenem ü nde. He therefore recommended that von Braun work more closely with Kammler to solve the problems of the V-2, but von Braun claimed to have replied that the problems were merely technical and he was confident that they would be solved with Dornberger&rsquos assistance.
Apparently von Braun had been under SD surveillance since October 1943 and a report on him and his colleagues Riedel and Gr o ttrup was being prepared. In it von Braun and his colleagues were said to have expressed regret at an engineer&rsquos house one evening that they were not working on a spaceship and that they felt the war was not going well (a &lsquodefeatist&rsquo attitude). A young female dentist later denounced them for their comments and, combined with Himmler&rsquos false charges that von Braun was a Communist sympathizer and had attempted to sabotage the V-2 program, this led to his arrest. Kammler, highly dedicated to Himmler, was also instrumental in von Braun&rsquos arrest by the Gestapo.
The unsuspecting von Braun was arrested and on March 22 (or March 14) 1944 and was taken to a Gestapo cell in Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland), where he was imprisoned for two weeks without knowing the charges leveled against him. It was only through the Abwehr in Berlin that Dornberger was able to obtain von Braun&rsquos conditional release and Albert Speer, Reichsminister for Munitions and War Production, convinced Hitler to release von Braun so that the V-2 program could continue.
Surrender to the Americans
The Soviet Army was about 160 km from Peenem ü nde in the spring of 1945 when von Braun assembled his planning staff and asked them to decide how and to whom they should surrender. Afraid of the rumored Soviet cruelty to prisoners of war, von Braun and his staff decided to try to surrender to the Americans. After using forged papers to steal a train, von Braun led 500 people through war-torn Germany toward the American lines. The SS had meanwhile been issued with orders to kill the German engineers and destroy their records. The engineers, however, had hidden these in a mineshaft and continued to evade their own troops. Upon finding an American private, von Braun greeted him &ldquoMy name is Magnus von Braun. My brother invented the V-2. We want to surrender.&rdquo Following the surrender, the American command realized the importance of the engineers and immediately went to Peenem ü nde and Nordhausen to capture the remaining V-2s and their parts before destroying both sites with explosives. Over 300 train-car loads of spare V-2 parts ultimately found their way to America. Much of von Braun&rsquos production team, however, was captured by the Russians. The V-2 rocket plans that had been hidden near Bad Sachsa in Germany were later recovered by members of the 332nd Engineer General Service Regiment.
U.S. Army career
On June 20, 1945, U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull approved the transfer of von Braun and his specialists to America. Since the paperwork of those Germans selected for transfer to the United States was indicated by paperclips, von Braun and his colleagues became part of the mission known as Operation Paperclip, an operation that resulted in the employment of many German scientists who were formerly considered as war criminals or security threats (like von Braun) by the U.S. Army  Walt Disney and Wernher von Braun, shown in this 1954 photo, collaborated on a series of three educational films. Enlarge Walt Disney and Wernher von Braun, shown in this 1954 photo, collaborated on a series of three educational films.
The first seven technicians arrived in the United States at New Castle Army Air Base, just south of Wilmington, Delaware, on September 20, 1945. They were then flown to Boston and taken by boat to the Army Intelligence Service post at Fort Strong in Boston Harbor. Later, with the exception of von Braun, the men were transferred to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to sort out the Peenem ü nde documents. These would be the documents that would enable the scientists to continue their rocketry experiments.
Finally, von Braun and his remaining Peenem ü nde staff were transferred to their new home at Fort Bliss, Texas, a large Army installation just north of El Paso. Whilst there they trained military, industrial and university personnel in the intricacies of rockets and guided missiles and helped to refurbish, assemble and launch a number of V-2s that had been shipped from Germany to the White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico. They also continued to study the future potential of rockets for military and research applications. Since they were not permitted to leave Fort Bliss without military escort, von Braun and his colleagues began to refer to themselves only half-jokingly as &ldquoPoPs&rdquo, &ldquoPrisoners of Peace&rdquo.
During his stay at Fort Bliss von Braun mailed a marriage proposal to his first cousin, 18-year-old Maria von Quistorp. On March 1, 1947, having received permission to go back to Germany and return with his bride, he married her in a Lutheran church in Landshut, Germany. In December 1948, the von Brauns&rsquo first daughter, Iris, was born at Fort Bliss Army Hospital. In total, the von Brauns had three children: Iris, Magrit and Peter.
In 1950, von Braun and his team were transferred to Huntsville, Alabama, his home for the next twenty years. Between 1950 and 1956, von Braun led the Army&rsquos rocket development team at Redstone Arsenal, resulting in the Redstone rocket. In 1955 von Braun became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
Still dreaming of a world in which rockets would be used for space exploration, in 1952 von Braun published his concept of a space station in a Collier&rsquos Weekly magazine series of articles entitled Man Will Conquer Space Soon! These articles were illustrated by the space artist Chesley Bonestell and were influential in spreading his ideas. The space-station would have a diameter of 250 feet (76 m), orbit at a height of 1075 miles (1730 km), spin to provide artificial gravity and provide a platform for lunar expeditions. In the hope that its involvement would bring about greater public interest in the future of the space program, von Braun also began working with the Disney studios as a technical director, initially for three television films about space exploration. Director Wernher von Braun shows President Kennedy around the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in 1963. Enlarge Director Wernher von Braun shows President Kennedy around the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in 1963.
As Director of the Development Operations Division of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA), von Braun&rsquos team then developed the Jupiter-C, a modified Redstone rocket. The Jupiter-C successfully launched the West&rsquos first satellite, Explorer 1, on January 31, 1958. This event signaled the birth of America&rsquos space program.
Despite the work on the Redstone rocket, the twelve years from 1945 to 1957 were probably some of the most frustrating for von Braun and his colleagues. In the Soviet Union Sergei Korolev and his team plowed ahead with several new rocket designs and the Sputnik program, while the American government was not very interested in von Braun&rsquos work or views and only embarked on a very modest rocket-building program. In the meantime the press tended to dwell on von Braun&rsquos past as a member of the SS and the slave labor used to build his V-2 rockets. It was not until 1957 and the launch of Sputnik 1 that America realized how far it lagged behind the Soviet Union in the emerging Space Race. After the U.S. Navy&rsquos attempt at building a rocket to lift satellites into orbit resulted in the very unreliable Vanguard, American authorities recognized they needed von Braun and his team&rsquos experience, so quickly had them transferred to NASA.
The F-1 engines of the Saturn V first stage dwarf von Braun.
The F-1 engines of the Saturn V first stage dwarf von Braun.
NASA was established by law on July 29, 1958. One day later, the 50th Redstone rocket was successfully launched from Johnston Atoll in the south Pacific as part of Operation Hardtack. Two years later NASA opened the new Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and transferred von Braun and his development team there from the ABMA at Redstone Arsenal. Presiding from July 1960 to February 1970, von Braun became the Center&rsquos first Director.
The Marshall Center&rsquos first major program was development of the Saturn rockets to carry heavy payloads into and beyond Earth orbit. Wernher von Braun&rsquos dream to help mankind set foot on the Moon became a reality on July 16, 1969 when a Marshall-developed Saturn V rocket launched the crew of Apollo 11 at the start of its historic eight-day mission. Over the course of the Apollo program Saturn V rockets enabled six teams of astronauts to reach the surface of the Moon. At the time of the first moon-landing von Braun publicly expressed his optimism that the Saturn rocket would continue to be developed, advocating manned missions to Mars in the 1980s based on the Saturn V.
During the late 1960s, von Braun played an instrumental role in the development of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. The desk from which he enabled America&rsquos entry in the Space Race remains on display there. Still with his rocket models, von Braun is pictured in his new office at NASA headquarters in 1970. Enlarge Still with his rocket models, von Braun is pictured in his new office at NASA headquarters in 1970.
In 1970, von Braun and his family relocated from Huntsville to Washington, D.C. when he was assigned the post of NASA&rsquos Deputy Associate Administrator for Planning at NASA Headquarters. However, with the truncation of the Apollo program, von Braun retired from NASA in June 1972, as it became evident that his and NASA&rsquos visions for future U.S. space flight projects were different.
Career after NASA After leaving NASA, von Braun became a vice-president of Fairchild Industries in Germantown, Maryland, where he helped establish and promote the National Space Institute, a precursor of the present-day National Space Society. In 1976 he became scientific consultant to Lutz Kayser the CEO of OTRAG and a member of the Daimler-Benz board of directors.
In 1976 von Braun also learned he had cancer. Despite surgery, the cancer progressed, forcing him to retire from Fairchild on December 31, 1976. Von Braun sustained an injury from a crash and unknown to him started to bleed internally. By the time his family convinced him to go to the hospital it was too late to stop the bleeding. On June 16, 1977, Wernher von Braun died in Alexandria, Virginia at the age of 65. He is buried there in the Ivy Hill Cemetery with the only the scripture Psalm 19:1 on his tombstone. It reads: &ldquoThe heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth his handywork.&rdquo In life von Braun was tall, articulate, with a fine command of English, although German accented, and always willing to talk to students in an attempt to inspire and light young minds with his vision of space travel, to which he was devoted all his life.
Wernher von Braun
Hey everyone! State of the Sub for January is up. We have finally completed the survey results, and have also opened mod applications. If you wanna become a mod here, make sure to apply!
I saw this quote many times, but only today figured out that it rhymes.
You either die a Nazi or live long enough to be a NASA scientist.
Iron Sky is a documentary. Change my mind.
Let me sing among those stars
Let me see what spring is like
Oh boy, time to search for controversial
Wait did the entire Apollo stack get developed completely by nazis? The Saturn, command module, and lunar lander? I thought the guy was just in charge of the group that developed the Saturn.
Command Module was designed and built by North American Aviation Lunar Excursion Module was Grumman.
I haven’t seen this template in years
Punishment if you don’t join nasa
Remember how my mind was blown away by the history of it all, the first time I saw the documentary "Space Race". Obviously diminishing Soviet a bit but still fascinating to watch
Von Braun invented space tech that (if built) would surpass our current capabilities! His nuclear engine was left to rust in a field incomplete because of lobbyists who threatened NASA and his family if Von Braun didn't leave the country and stop working demanded this "Nazi" be removed!
Imagine the advancements in medicine weɽ have if we managed to keep all of Dr. Mengula's research notes (many of which were destroyed or lost).
But no, Humanity's advancement is not much less important that attacking Nazi's.
“All his vacuums, his labyrinths, had been the other side of this. While he lived, and drew marks on paper, this invisible kingdom had kept on, in the darkness outside… all this time…”
Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)
Wernher von Braun met Hitler at least five times. The group photo above was taken at the Army ordinance station at Kummersdorf shortly after a winter snowstorm in early 1934. Hitler, just one year into the Thousand Year Reich, stands at the center of the Nazi universe. His two sycophantic aids, Rudolph Hess and Martin Bormann station themselves just above him on both sides. And soaring directly upward is WvB, hatless and handsome in a black double-breasted suit surrounded by thick clouds of Wehrmacht grey. How much are we to read into WvB’s visible distinction from the crowd of Army and Nazi party officers? Does he stand apart, does he dare up-stage the Führer, or is he among kindred souls in this photo? In truth, he is all that and then some.
Wernher Magnus Maxmilian Freiher von Braun was born 23 March 1912, the second of three sons to a family of Prussian Junkers, from a long line of aristocrats whose estates would become lost to Stalin in what is today western Poland. His father, Magnus von Braun, patriarchal by nature and nationalist, even monarchist, in his politics, worked in the civil service in interwar Berlin. His mother, from the lesser von Quistorp family, raised the children in a cultivated and privileged home, protected from the politics and culture of the city. The family bequeathed to even their maverick middle son a thick layer of formal charm, good manners and deep conservatism. But it was the simple gift of a telescope on his 13th birthday that ignited a life long desire to be the first man to walk on the Moon.
While German Communists and Nazi Stormtroopers battled in the streets, WvB embraced his own growing “fanaticism” for the Rocket. In boarding school WvB dedicated himself to math and physics, enthusiastically joining an amateur Rocket society led by Hermann Oberth, an early visionary of space travel and technical advisor on Fritz Lang’s film Frau im Mond (1929). In his entrepreneurial way, WvB’s club rented an unused ammo dump in a Berlin suburb and began testing small liquid fueled rockets at what they dubbed the Raketenflugplatz (meaning “Rocket launching place,” but the word is really much funnier if you just try and say it in German). There young Wernher came to understand one important thing about the science of rocketry: if you are going to send anything into space, let alone get it to another planet, you are going to have to build something very big. Earth’s orbital escape velocity is over 25,000 mph and chemical fuels were (and still are) very heavy, so if WvB was going to get himself to the Moon, he needed something bigger than an amateur Rocket club.
In 1932, right on cue, the Army pulled up in “a black sedan” to witness one of their test launches.* One of these military men, Major General Doctor Walter Dornberger of German Army Ordinance, recognized WvB’s leadership and offered to pay for his doctoral research, hiring him on as “a civilian employee of the Army.”* Indeed, the German Army was keen on Rockets because the Versailles Treaty ending World War I prevented them from building really big guns. It said nothing about self-propelled rockets, and through that loophole WvB’s career blasted off, so to speak.
Born near the Spring Equinox under favorable stars, this kind of good fortune and favor in the hands of the Elect, his innate ability to catch every break and dodge every curve, followed WvB for his entire charmed life. His entire life seemed to embody a kind of turbocharged white privilege.
At the same time, his father took up a key position in the cabinet of Franz van Pappen, an aristocratic conservative nationalist who formed a new government in 1932. Though narrowly defeated in the presidential elections by the aging war hero Paul von Hindenburg, Adolph Hitler was still the leader of the largest party in the Reichstag. Nazi stormtroopers rioted in the streets of Berlin and Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda machine screamed for a top spot in the cabinet for their Führer. In this moment of crisis, the last gasp of the aging Prussian aristocracy came up with a truly terrible plan. They would bring an end to Germany’s first experiment in Democracy (and box out the Communist and Socialist parties) by “hiring on” Hitler to serve as Chancellor, thereby co-opting the youthful energy of the National Socialists to their revanchist rule. But Hitler was a modern man and his ambition could not be contained.
On the night of 30 January 1933, with Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, the Nazi seizure of power began. Within six months, Hitler abolished all other political parties in Germany, seized absolute control over the state, police, civil service and media apparatus, opened the first concentration camp at Dachau, began purging German Jews from public life, and, after the summary arrest and execution of one of his best friends (the paramilitary leader Ernst Röhm along with a few hundred others in “the night of the long knives”), Hitler claimed the absolute loyalty of the German army.
So while his father Magnus was out of a job, son Wernher made new friends.
Serving in the Kaiser’s Army was part of the von Braun family’s Prussian heritage selling out to the Nazis was something else. In the 1920s, Aristocratic Germans looked down on the petty bourgeois Nazis President Hindenburg dismissed Hitler as “that Bavarian private.” True to his kind, WvB recalled thinking that in the early 1930s “Hitler was still only a pompous fool with a Charlie Chaplin moustache.”* The von Brauns were conservative German nationalists, service was naturally due to their Kaiser and Reich. Whereas new notions of race, Darwinian struggle and the racial supremacy of “das Volk” was for the consumption of ordinary Germans. “The People’s state must set race in the center of all life. It must take steps to keep it pure,” wrote Hitler in Mein Kampf (1923), and this became one of the philosophical pillars of the new Nazi state. Yet WvB and other aristocratic men in the Army didn’t need Hitler — an overly emotional failed artist from Austria — to tell them that they were superior examples of humankind. That they already knew. So Hitler seduced the Army as he seduced WvB, first with money, and later with personal prizes. In the end, it will turn out to be WvB who seduced Hitler, but we’ll come to that in a moment.
A little over a year after the photo above, the new German Luftwaffe, or air force, joined the Army in making an investment in WvB hoping to develop rocket planes and jets. “In this manner our modest effort,” WvB recalled after the War, “emerged into what the Americans call the ‘big time.’ Thenceforth millions after millions flowed in as we needed it.”* With these millions, WvB built the world’s largest Rocket design, production and testing facility at Peenemünde on the Baltic Sea.
If WvB had little enthusiasm for the more loathsome aspects of Nazi ideology, he showed no opposition to it either. WvB joined the Nazi party in 1937 as member #5,738,692. WvB’s most authoritative biographer, Michael J. Neufeld, calls him, “a loyal, perhaps even mildly enthusiastic subject of Hitler’s dictatorship.”* WvB already had the Army on his side, but he was clearly perceptive enough to recognize that Party connections could only help to advance his career. Yet WvB always represented himself as much too busy for politics, as if politics were exclusively the attending of rallies and wearing uniforms. Building Rockets for the Army wasn’t politics, he told himself and anyone who asked, it was pure science and engineering. Of course this claim to be neutral or apolitical while working for the Nazi regime is a measure of his Aryan racial privilege and expressive of his life long aversion to the consequences of his actions.
But really, what was there for WvB not to love about the Third Reich? He obviously had no troubles filling out his ahnenpass, the racial passports required of all German citizens to certify their biological purity. WvB neither knew any Jews nor did he harbor antisemitic feelings. As a conservative, he easily embraced Hitler’s sexism and anti-communism. But most importantly, WvB put his faith in Hitler’s sense of mission, sharing a belief that it was Germany’s destiny to seize leadership of the Western World through technology like the Rocket.
Ever since he took office, Hitler had been on quite a roll: he ended the chaos of democracy, put people back to work, tore up the humiliating Versailles Treaty, built the autobahns, hosted the 1936 Olympics, annexed Austria, humiliated the British at Munich, and then conquered first Poland and then France with ease. Hitler won every fight he started, right up to the point where he invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941.
It is hard to imagine that WvB was not tempted, if only for a moment, to buy into the Nazis’ ambitions along the upward curve of Peak Whiteness, something WvB translated into a dream of putting a member of the Master Race on Mars. A member like himself, perhaps.
Working under General Dornberger, the team at Peenemünde had more than 3500 people working for them when the war started on 1 September 1939. But it was not until 3 October 1942, in the midst of the Battle of Stalingrad, that a test of the new A-4 rocket flew 85 kilometers high at a range of 190 kilometers, breaking the sound barrier and traveling faster and farther than any other rocket in history. “We have invaded space with our rocket,” a jubilant Dornberger told his command, “and for the first time — mark this well — have used space as a bridge between two points on the Earth we have proved rocket propulsion practicable for space travel.”* The Rocket carried a special insignia, the sexualized image of the Frau im Mond riding a menage á trois of Moon and Rocket to the stars, a vision of these young men’s movie-made erotic dreams of exploration and conquest.
But of course, everyone knew that as long as there is a war on, these new space invaders would serve not as Rockets to the Moon but as weapons of mass destruction. And not a moment too soon.
On 7 July 1943, just as the last decisive battle in the East, the battle of Kursk, was commencing, WvB and General Dornberger arrived at The Wolf’s Lair, Hitler’s headquarters on the Eastern Front. They were summoned to brief the Führer at the request of Albert Speer, Hitler’s personal architect turned all-powerful Armaments Minister.
After the war, the Allies convicted Speer of war crimes at the Nuremburg trials. But because he was the only one who expressed any regrets, his life was spared and he spent the next twenty years in Spandau prison, secretly working on his memoirs which he published in 1970 as Inside the Third Reich. Therein Speer vividly recalls Dornberger and WvB’s briefing as a turning point, the moment when the Rocket transformed from the Army’s secret research experiment into the technological salvation of the Third Reich. In hindsight, this meeting stood out for Speer as the moment where he failed his beloved Führer. “Our most expensive project was also our most foolish one,” recalled Speer. “Those rockets, which were our pride and for a long time my favorite armaments project, proved to be nothing but a mistaken investment.”* How had he blundered so badly? Why did they make such a costly bet on this new technology? Turns out, it was all WvB’s fault. His Rocket seduced both Hitler and Speer.
Speer believed WvB to be “a man realistically at home in the future.” The two young technocrats forged a partnership that was rare in the dog eat dog Darwinian world of high ranking Nazi officials. “I liked mingling with this circle of non-political young scientists and inventors,” recalled Speer. “Their work also exerted a strange fascination upon me. It was like the planning of a miracle… Whenever I visited Peenemünde I also felt, quite spontaneously, somehow akin to them.”* Speer loved the Rocket and felt a bond with WvB that he wanted to share with his beloved Führer.
WvB began his briefing with a film of the successful October launch (Hitler loved movies).* “For the first time,” recalled Speer, “Hitler saw the majestic spectacle of a great rocket rising from its pad and disappearing into the stratosphere. Without a trace of timidity and with his boyish sounding enthusiasm, von Braun explained his theory. There could be no question about it: From that moment on, Hitler had been finally won over…”*
Before this film, the future of the Nazi Rocket had been in doubt, for the Führer — who fancied himself a prophet — dreamed that the Rocket would not fly (kindly insert another dick joke of your choice here). But WvB got Hitler hot. “The A-4 is a measure that can decide the war,” raved the overstimulated dictator. “What encouragement to those on the homefront when we attack the English with it! This is the decisive weapon of the war.”* Hitler was so impressed with WvB that he awarded the young Rocket-man the ultimate academic honorific of “Professor,” a title WvB lorded over his German colleagues for the rest of their lives.
Both WvB and Dornberger recalled Hitler’s exaggerated response to the film, starting with a grand (and extremely rare) apology to Dornberger for having doubted him in his dreams. Still the Führer had one overriding concern about the project’s future, its relative lack of destructive power. “A strange, fanatical light flared up in Hitler’s eyes,” recalled Dornberger, as Hitler began raving, “But what I want is annihilation — annihilating effect!”* WvB recalled a similar conversation with Hitler about the limited damaged caused by a supersonic impact. Hitler argued that the A-4, falling almost vertically, would burrow too deep into the Earth before exploding, failing to do much real damage. WvB never before considered what happened when the Rockets came down. But he set someone to study the problem, and it turned out that Hitler was right about the ballistics. WvB was impressed with Hitler their attraction was mutual.
Indeed Speer recalled that Hitler’s fascination with WvB only grew with time. “‘Weren’t you mistaken? [sez Hitler] You say this young man is thirty-one? I would have thought him even younger!’ He thought it astonishing that so young a man could already have helped to bring about a technical breakthrough which would change the face of the future. From then on he would sometimes expatiate on his thesis that in our century people squandered the best years of their lives on useless things. In past eras an Alexander the Great had conquered a vast empire at the age of twenty-three and Napoleon had won his brilliant victories at thirty. In connection with this he would often allude, as if casually, to Wernher von Braun, who at so young an age had created a technical marvel at Peenemünde.”*
Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels had the same reaction to seeing the A-4 films. “One has the impression of being there at the birth of a new world.” he wrote in his diaries. “I can imagine that the A4 will bring about a complete revolution in weapons technology and that future wars will look completely different… The A4 as it soars upward is not only an imposing but also an aesthetic sight.”* With an eye for that aesthetic, Goebbels’ renamed the Rocket the V-2 V for Vergeltungswaffe or Revenge Weapon.
Obviously, the Nazi leadership was smitten with the young Aryan genius. But WvB refused to put out, and for more than a year he only teased. Major technical problems stood in the way of both guidance control and the desired “annihilating effect.” In fact, it was not until September 1944 that the first V-2s fell on London. And then not in a great barrage of hundreds, as imagined by Hitler, but one at a time over a period of a few days. Londoners soon learned that with this new Rocket, if you heard a screaming in the sky, you were safe, because death and fire arrived in silence before the sound of the supersonic rocket could catch up.
The V-2 campaign launched about 3,172 rockets at targets in England, Belgium, France and Holland. The biggest campaigns targeted London (1358 rockets) and Antwerp (1610 rockets).* The single most devastating strike occurred on 6 December 1944 when a V-2 scored a direct hit on the packed Rex Theater in Antwerp, right in the middle of Cecil B. DeMille’s western The Plainsman starring Gary Cooper as Wild Bill Hickok and Jean Arthur as Calamity Jane. 561 people, about half of whom were Allied soldiers, died in the theater. Did the Rocket seek to maximize its destructive potential? Was it sent to kill one specific person? Was it late for the show? Or was this result an altogether random event, a chance impact so horrific as to make one need to believe that the Rocket followed some narrative path, struck according to some decipherable control pattern. No such luck. Antwerp renamed itself the “City of Sudden Death.”
By the launch of the last V-2 in late March 1945, the Rocket had killed an estimated 9,000 people. To understand the significance of this number, we can compare it to the far greater destructive powers unleashed by the Allies in their Total War from the air. For example, the RAF led bombing raid on Hamburg — Operation Gomorrah in July 1943 — killed some 42,600 German civilians and left hundreds of thousands homeless. Most horrifically of all, the US firebombing of Tokyo on 9–10 March 1945 killed more than 100,000 people in a single night. So in a Deutschmarks per death ratio, postwar Speer was right, building the Rocket was a poor economic decision made from a loosing military position. While it may have been a magic bullet of some sort, it was was never going to win the War.
“In the end,” writes historian Richard Evans, “the main significance of the wonder-weapons was as a propaganda device that offered hope to those who still wanted Nazism to win.”* The Rocket in the Third Reich was never so much a practical weapon as an object of fantasy, a mass produced mechanical and chemical engine of apocalyptic desire. First fired only after the liberation of Paris, the final outcome of the German War was well and truly decided by the time the V-2 claimed its first victim. (Who, had he or she an instant of reflection before death, no doubt cared not one kraut fuck about how “late” or “cost effective” the weapon system turned out to be).
Its role more ideological than technological, the V-2 could not win the War but it did serve to prolong it. Hitler’s faith in the Rocket only grew as the Soviets approached Berlin, such hope serving as a measure of Hitler’s desperation and personal decline into delusion. So apart from being a technical marvel, the reality of the V-2 Rocket was that it only accelerated the killing in a War that stubbornly refused to end.
This was due in large part to Nazi racial ideology. Nazis both fanatical and fearful held out faith that the most gifted members of the master race would produce a final breakthrough, whether military or scientific, just in time to save their people from destruction at the hands of the bestial Eastern hoards. This extremist faith in the violence of Progress — always at the center of National Socialism’s embrace of the Enlightenment project — played a critical role in the cultural knot the Nazi regime tied around the German people. This bind, backed increasingly by raw terror, ensured that Germany fought to the finish.
Buried alive inside his bunker, all Hitler had left were his fantasies. Speer’s intimacy with Hitler had long been based on his ability to arouse then realize the Führer’s deepest desires using what Thomas Pynchon called “a pornography of blueprints,” first in architecture, then in city planning, and finally, fatally, with the Rocket. And when these fantasies ran out, Hitler poisoned his dog and his wife and then shot himself.
For generations, Americans enamored with WvB (like Walt Disney and JFK) accepted his story that he was never a committed Nazi, but that he was somehow preternaturally apolitical, just an idealistic engineer, a dreamer of space. As if dreaming were somehow innocent, as if our visions of the future were devoid of politics. But of course there is nothing innocent about selling Hitler on the blueprints of the A-10, a huge multi-stage Rocket that WvB promised could hit New York City. For selling Hitler hope to pay for his own fantasies of space travel, WvB is not only an object lesson in the moral hazards of masculine careerism, but he should be remembered as one of Hitler’s central co-conspirators. The fanatic’s ultimate fantasist.
After the war, WvB swore that the A-4 was never originally designed as a ”weapon with which to devastate London.” The narrow truth of this statement is a measure of WvB’s ethical blindness. Yet, to the end of his life, WvB insisted that the only thing wrong with the V-2 Rocket was that it “hit the wrong planet.”
If that’s its only moral flaw, then the V-2 must have been built on the wrong planet too. Because the V-2 is unique in the history of arms and armaments for being the only weapon to have killed more people in its manufacture than through its application in War. Perhaps what is most remarkable about the V-2 is that the Nazis used slave labor to build the first spaceship.
Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer SS, and my candidate for the last century’s most evil person, visited Peenemünde several times. This photo was taken on his second trip in June 1943 where he is flanked on the left by General Dornberger and just to the right, largely obstructed by Himmler, is WvB wearing the black Hugo Boss uniform of an SS officer. WvB joined the SS on May Day 1940 (Member #185,068), and in four years rose to the rank of SS-Sturmbannführer (Major).* This is the only known photo of WvB in the black, and he looks like he’s trying to hide from history. The obstructed view in the photo probably saved WvB’s career in later years, as it remains suggestive of his partial-view morality. Even if we are willing to accept a moral argument for building rockets for the Army, once the SS gets involved all ambiguity vanishes, and all that could have been good about the Rocket turns to shit and death.
If Adolph Hitler had a vision of a Jew-Free Europe, then Heinrich Himmler had a plan for the Führer’s unshakeable will to be done. Founded to be Hitler’s private bodyguards by the mid-1930s the SS transformed itself into the central force of Nazi terrorism, controlling the German police (Gestapo), the security police as well as an ever growing system of “concentration camps” starting with Dachau and ending with Auschwitz. With the War in the East, the power of the SS expanded into special death squads (Einsatzgruppen) and death camps like Treblinka, Bełżec and Sobibór (Vernichtungslager). The self-conscious vanguard of the race, SS membership required biological standards, one had to be near 6 feet tall, able to document their Aryan racial heritage to at least 1750, and make application to Himmler for the right to marry (something which legendary playboy WvB applied for in 1943 but never consummated). Himmler was an inexhaustible activist of mass death and now he wanted a piece of the Rocket.
On 18 August 1943 the British Royal Air Force led an air raid on Peenemünde of more more than 600 planes, damaging many of the larger buildings and killing several hundred Russian prisoners of war. Most of the engine test stands, the wind tunnel and a majority of the scientists survived, yet WvB’s Rocket utopia was over. Hitler saw the bombing of Peenemünde as a serious threat to his plans and soon announced the relocation of “all German industrial plants under the Earth.”*
Promising total security and a limitless supply of labor, Himmler got the order from Hitler to construct new underground factories to build V-2s. The site chosen was an old mine dug into the Hartz Mountains outside of Nordhausen. Two twisting parallel tunnels under the mountain more than a mile long, connected by dozens of side tunnels, which eventually provided more than a million square feet of manufacturing space. Ten days after selecting the site, the SS set up a labor camp known as Dora, a satellite of the main camp at Buchenwald. Himmler ordered General Kammler — head of SS construction projects and the man who oversaw the construction of the gas chambers at Auschwitz — to begin blasting and expanding the tunnel system. “Pay no attention to the human costs,” demanded Kammler. “The work must go ahead, and in the shortest possible time.”* Within two months the V-2 factory was up and running though the blasting under the mountain never seemed to stop.
As the tunnels became operational in the summer of 1944, Speer sent Walter Frentz — Hitler’s favorite photographer — to take pictures of the assembly plant in the Mittelwerk. These photos depict healthy, skilled, albeit imprisoned workers in striped uniforms completing the final V-2 engine assembly. By the time the first V-2 hit London, there were more than 30,000 prisoners living in the camps around Dora-Mittelbau. Tens of thousands of slaves of the Reich worked, slept, ate, washed and, ever increasingly, died underground building V-2s. In the first six months some 2,882 prisoners died of disease, starvation and beatings in the dark and filth. By March 1944 a crematorium had to be built to deal with all the bodies, which was all according to the SS plan of Vernichtung durch Arbeit, or extermination through work.
In the winter of 1945, WvB and General Dornberger left Peenemünde to take over leadership of the “Mittelbau-Dora Planning Office.” Living a dozen miles away from the caves, drawing up fresh plans inside a grand villa that had long-ago been confiscated from a Jewish factory owner, WvB made at least ten visits to the Mittelwerk to inspect the assembly process. WvB sez he never saw a hanging or any explicit violence. He could unsee the corpses strewn around the camp, the smoke of the choked crematoria and the piles of grey ash that blew into all corners of the camps. But there is no way he could have escaped the smell of death and disease coming from that industrial slave pit. WvB even made a critical trip to the main SS camp at Buchenwald in an effort to recruit skilled draftsmen and engineers from among the French prisoners. Above the gates at Buchenwald the Nazis posted the phrase “Jedem das Seine” — “Everyone gets what they deserve.”
As output increased along with the death rate in the Mittelwerk, Rockets began exploding on the launch pads or breaking up on atmospheric reentry. The SS suspected sabotage and used the enormous production cranes to stage mass executions of rebellious prisoners, hanging as many as 57 at one time and leaving the bodies dangling over the production line for days. At maximum, the Mittelwerk produced 600 Rockets a week, building some 4,575 Rockets inside those fetid caves. During which time, more than 60,000 prisoners worked at 30 or more sub-camps and worksites in and round Dora-Mittelbau. By the time the Allies liberated the camp in the Spring 1945 an estimated 20,000 workers died at the work camps which built the V-2.
For Himmler the killing was never enough. In the spring of 1944, Himmler summoned WvB with a proposition veiled as a threat. “‘I hope you realize that your A-4 rocket has ceased to be a toy,’ said Himmler,” recalls WvB after the War. “‘And that the whole of the German people eagerly await the mystery weapon… And as for you, I can imagine that you’ve been immensely handicapped by Army red tape. Why not join my staff? Surely you know that no one has such ready access to the Führer….’”* WvB explained that he trusted General Dornberger, that delays in the V-2 plans were technical problems not Army interference, and thanks but no thanks.
Gangster that he was, Himmler was not about to give WvB a chance to refuse him a second time. On the day before his 32nd birthday, SS agents took WvB, with his brother and two other Peenemünde engineers into what the Gestapo liked to call “protective custody.” At first they were charged with “defeatism” on the evidence of talking shit in a bar a little too loudly. Later he was charged by the SS with sabotaging weapons production by diverting resources into his dreams of space travel. In the end, Himmler released WvB unharmed by an order of the Führer obtained by General Dornberger and Albert Speer. What does it say about WvB that Hitler had to save him from the SS? According to Operation Paperclip, the US military conspiracy to capture Nazi Scientists, WvB’s arrest by the SS meant that he was not a fanatical Nazi and that he was safe to bring to the US.
On a strange winter’s night in Castle Varlar, December 1944, the German army celebrated the Rocket’s success in a grand Nazi banquet so macabre that it really should be a slapstick scene in a Marx Brother’s film or an outrageous satire from Gravity’s Rainbow. As a crowd of Nazi dignitaries sipped champagne, General Dornenberg, WvB and two other engineers — all wearing crisp new tuxedos — received the Reich’s highest non-combat award, the Knight’s Cross. Mobile crews just outside the castle grounds launched four rockets during the course of the party, with revelers turning their attention to toast the honored recipient, followed by an excited pause and a deafening roar as another Rocket took flight, followed by another award, followed by a Rocket, until late into the night. The juxtaposition of celebration and War, of progress and death, marks the high-point in WvB’s career as a Nazi.
He served his Führer, his Reich and his race with distinction. And yet, rational as WvB was, he could tell that Germany was losing the war. If the Thousand Year Reich was not going to last long enough to put a Man on the Moon then WvB needed to find a new ticket to ride.
This story is told in four parts. Part 1 offers an introduction to Peak Whiteness and the life of WvB. Part 2 deals with WvB’s youth and service to the Third Reich. Part 3 begins with his surrender to the Americans and his work building Rockets for the American empire. And part 4 considers the Counterculture’s challenge — in humor, film and literature — to WvB and the Military Industrial Complex.
Wernher von Braun
Post by Sturmmann » 10 Feb 2003, 01:58
With the attention on NASA in the news, I would like to take a look at its first director, the father of space-flight, Wernher von Braun. I often see him on the media put in the same light as other German great minds of the time such as Einstein, Shroedinger (Austrian), and Heisenberg, who all had a resentment towards the Third Reich, or worked within it only because they were forced. What were von Brauns real views? The post war american view is of the fatherly Disney spokeman, with a tragic past of being made to work for evil. But von Braun never showed remorse for the slave labour he oversaw, or the death caused by his rockets, only that he wanted to send the rockets into space instead of wasting them on earthly targets. It is his singular obsession with space travel that seemed to drive everything he did. Things like nazis, slave-labour, war, the operation paperclip, were just necessary steps to achieve his goal. Is having that kind of drive in a man a healthy thing, if the cost (thousands of lives) is worth it, if it eventually benefits mankind? I would like to know what the members of this board think that von Braun's views were.
He fell under the spell like so many others, and supported nazis?
He was just willing to do anything in order to progress his research?
He hated the nazis, but worked because they forced him to?
Post by Nigel » 10 Feb 2003, 07:11
I have never heard the claim that von Braun was a member of the SS. I believe he admitted to joining the Nazi party (because it was expected) but I can't believe the SS claim.
Where did you hear the claim of SS membership? Why do you claim that is him in the photo?
Can anyone else shed light on this claim?
I know von Braun's Nazi past was downplayed due to his major player status in our space program. The Saturn V was basically his baby.
Post by Navy Vet » 10 Feb 2003, 07:21
Wernher Von Braun
Post by Dennis Redler » 10 Feb 2003, 10:15
Werner Von braun SS membership-.
Post by Xavier » 10 Feb 2003, 10:43
He was an SS member, altought honorary, but he was, his rank was SS-Sturmbannführer (major)
Wernher von Braun
Post by Dennis Redler » 10 Feb 2003, 12:15
Post by Colbro » 10 Feb 2003, 15:08
Post by war_dog2 » 11 Feb 2003, 02:42
I believe I read in Albert Speers Autobiography (Inside the 3rd Reich) all high ranking members of the Nazi Party were expected to assume some honourary SS Membersip. I believe that Albert Speer had membership with an SS Automobile club.
Post by Nigel » 13 Feb 2003, 05:45
Thank You Xavier for setting the record straight. I am quite surprised that von Braun's SS membership (even honorary) didn't set off a firestorm of protest. It (1950's) was a different time. Remember the fuss that went up when Pres. Reagan visited the cemetary where so SS men were buried?
Post by Xavier » 13 Feb 2003, 16:20
well, no need to thank, that is what the forum is for,
about the fuss, I think it has to be with von Braun's usefulness to the USA, being a higly prized scientific, nobody wanted to put him on the spotlight and anger him.
Post by Sturmmann » 13 Feb 2003, 21:43
Thanks for the replies. Yes Braun accepted a membership in SS, supposedly to avoid causing problems with Himmler, but Himmler ended up causing problems anyway.
It is a difficult thing to research because the backstory given by him and NASA which has been around for so long, may not be totally truthfull. For example compare the stories in the links given by xavier, the NASA one paints a far nicer picture. This is another incidence of the hypocrisy when dealing with "war crimes"
Who else thinks colombia would have not exploded if the original german engineers were still around
Post by Colbro » 13 Feb 2003, 22:10
Yes, you're probably right Sturmmann! For the record, here is the translation of the last chapter of the "Dora- Cimitiere du Francaise" booklet I mentioned, regarding "Operation Paperclip."
In 1985, Linda Hunt, an American journalist, received the international prize for investigative journalists and their editors.
Her book, "Secret Agenda" exposed the machinations of certain American services, on the issue of the war and how they recovered high-ranking German scientists and how they were shielded from justice, even though they were war criminals.
At least 1,600 German scientists and specialists and thousands of their assistants were introduced into the United States under cover of "Operation Paperclip."
On 19th May 1945, Herbert Wagner, a notorious Nazi, was clandestinely introduced into the United States, camouflaged from the immigration service. He was an engineer and chief of the office of missile studies at the firm of Henschel, and creator of the first German guided missile of the Second World War. The American information services, and certain of their scientists, dazzled by the German technology, considered the German specialists to be their colleagues, and chose to ignore that their knowledge was built upon piles of cadavers.
The American colonel, Holger Toftoy, had charge of five units who combed the battlefields, in order to research arms and military equipment. The essential members of the group who worked at Peenemunde, surrendered themselves to the American authorities. Von Braun, the father of the German rockets, and four hundred other experts were sent to Garmisch, to be interrogated.
Colonel James Collins was on his way toward an infantry unit near Nordhausen, when a liaison officer called him on the radio and said to him "Colonel, you must come here and see what we have found, it's terrible!" Then, Colonel Collins, noted with horror that he had found the camp at Nordhausen, where the SS had piled up all those coming to the camp at Dora and its neighbouring kommandos, who were unfit for work.
A Sergeant Farris noted in his report: "We were a trained medical personnel, familiar with battles, and we thought that there was nothing more that we were able to learn. Nevertheless, in a short period of two days, we had a true-life experience, that we will never forget. Our eyes ranged over row upon row of skeletons covered with skin. They were lying as though they had burst with hunger, and covered with indescribable filth. We went toward the lifts and under the cage of the lift, about 75 corpses were piled. "
This was not more than several kilometres from the factory where the V 2s were made.
The following day, the American troops tried to get over the shock produced by their grim discovery, and a technical unit arrived at the same time as another unit whose task was to gather evidence, of the crimes committed against the prisoners. The technical unit occupied themselves with recovering all of the materials that they were able to find, described in the existing technical documents, at the same time they searched for the men who could explain them. The others searched for those who had committed these monstrous crimes, which had come to be discovered.
In collecting the testimonies of the survivors, the picture rapidly became clear, that the two units were searching for the same men! Albin Sawatzki, technical director of the Mittelwerk Dora enterprise, was arrested by the army Military Police, and identified the most important people, and indicated at the same time where he thought that they would be able to find the SS from the camp. He recognised that the detainees were dead by reason of the awful conditions of life, which comprised the want of food, the cold, and the foul air in the factory. He also cynically confessed, to having beaten the prisoners, himself. All those individuals who would have been liable to be arrested for their involvement in the crimes against the prisoners, were sheltered from justice, if they had scientific competence which could be utilised. At the time of the legal proceedings at Dachau, all criminals held, who possessed useful scientific knowledge, escaped justice because of the protection this knowledge gave them. Those accused at Dora, were pursued for the murder of at least 20,000 detainees, who had been starved, beaten, tortured or hanged.
Georg Rickhey, Director of Mittelwerk, was particularly accused of having instituted a growing system for the production of V 2 rockets, which forced the slave labourers to work at such a pace that many deaths from exhaustion resulted. He was also accused of having organised some hundreds of hangings in the tunnels at Dora. The SS officer, Simon, head of the division of slave workers, was also in the dock, accused of murder. That man was one of rare brutality.
One day, in the summer of 1944, when a trainload of Hungarian Jews, comprising some children, arrived from Buchenwald, they were weakened by the the hunger that they had endured in being transported to the camp. Simon immediately allocated the adults an exhausting labour, he forced them to carry panels of wood for the construction of their own block. The majority died of exhaustion, then Simon occupied the children, whom he considered to be useless for work, because they were too young (not more than ten or twelve years old) with work in the tunnels. He had them massacred at Ellrich, in abominable conditions.
In his closing declaration, Lieutenant Colonel Berman, the Prosecutor General, described Dora as unique among the concentration camps and that it had been created in order to serve the German war machine. The entire complex, consisted of a principal camp, Dora and thirty-one camp annexes gathered around the town of Nordhausen in the Harz Mountains. The camps existed for one purpose - to furnish forced labour for the ultra secret armament factory for the manufacture of the V 2. "Dora was a concentration camp, having the admitted objective of exterminating those who were sent there," said Berman. " the method of extermination was not the gas chamber, but the method of working them to death, and that is how they did it."
Some 60,000 prisoners passed through the camp in less than two years, one third died by reason of the organised assassination.
The archives of the Dora "hospital" enumerated the causes of death: 9,000 died of exhaustion, 350, at least, were hanged and the rest were beaten to death or died of disease or starvation.
During the legal proceedings, Rickhey was described as a cold-hearted Nazi who asked the SS to hang the prisoners. Four months before the arrival of the Americans, Hitler having again demanded an increase in rocket production, Rickhey took advantage of one of his everyday walkabouts to appear in Nazi uniform, with an entourage of heavily armed SS. He gathered the prisoners in the tunnel, and threatened them with deprivation of food if they failed to augment the rate of production. That was how the churns of drained soup came to arrive, the potatoes were more and more rotten and the death knell intensified. Rickhey and Arthur Rudolph, the chief of production, at Mittelwerk, knew that the prisoners were going to die.
Everyday reports were sent to Simon's office, showing how many detainees in total, either working, being sick or dead.
At the time of these proceedings, Rickhey's defence had been centred on making out that he was an administrator, in charge of only the budget, and not the production of the rockets. He transferred the responsibility for the deaths of the prisoners onto Albin Sawatzki, the technical director. Rickhey declared that, in addition, von Braun was the chief of construction of the V 2 and that he constantly kept himself up to date with Sawatzki's contributions. For his part, Rudolph described Rickhey as the Director general of Mittelwerk, responsible for everything that happened in the factory. He re-iterated very frankly the process whereby the engineers, the civilians, the SS, everybody, rained blows on the prisoners who were going to die in one way or another.
The legal proceedings lasted for four months, fifteen accused were found guilty and four not guilty. In order for the American public not to know that von Braun, Rudolph and the others had worked at Dora, and participated in the killing, the dossier of the proceedings was classified as secret. Nobody knew that the dead prisoners at Dora had worked as slaves on the V 2 rockets. Von Braun and his ilk, were in this manner, put out of the way of blame. In 1946, Samuel Klaus (the representative of the Department of State) attempted to obtain the list of Germans introduced into the United States by the operation Paperclip.
Colonel Thomas Ford, Director of J.I.O.A. (Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency) declared that the list was secret: He had good reasons for that, because there were 146 reports of enquiry, coming from Europe, which were most unfavourable to the presence of Germans arriving clandestinely in the United States by reason of their scientific competence, but who were at the same time, Nazis, of high rank.
The report on Wernher von Braun had been the first to arrive, and one was able to read that he was an ardent Nazi, and a menace to the security of the United States. He had, according to the report, been a commandant in the SS, which he had joined in 1940, on the personal order of Himmler. Numerous overwhelming documents, concerning all the Germans brought to the United States under the cover of Operation Paperclip, were hidden, or falsified by the J.I.O.A.
The camouflage commenced in earnest on 4th December 1947, when the Director of J.I.O.A. asked for the reports on fourteen "ardent Nazis," including von Braun, being reviewed because their was little chance of the justice approving the immigration of such individuals.
By grace of blank dossiers, numerous members of Paperclip obtained their visa, and later their American citizenship.
In the sixties, the Americans had one objective, to surpass the Russians in space. At the spatial flight centre of NASA, at Huntsville, the German group worked to develop powerful rockets for carrying men to the moon.
When the first man walked on the moon, the inhabitants of Huntsville, Alabama, carried Wernher von Braun aloft, in triumph, to the sound of the ringing of bells and displays of fireworks. Rudolph was covered with honours. Nobody mentioned the 20,000 dead, at the concentration camp complex of Dora (which comprised in 1945, 32 Kommando annexes) on the corpses of which the Germans had built their glory.
Generalmajor Walter Dornberger, the old chief of the base at Peenemünde, became the President of the Bell Aircraft Company, and never was indicted for his criminal activities.
Post by Scott Smith » 14 Feb 2003, 03:36
Niether Dornberger nor von Braun had any criminal activities unless designing a missile is a criminal activity.
In August, 1943 the SS took over production of the V 2 using forced-labor at the highest priority near Nordhausen. Brigadeführer Hans Kammler built the underground factory, Mittelwerk using concentration-camp labor from Dora, a satellite of Buchenwald. Later Kammler was in charge of firing the V-weapons and becoming plenipotentiary of all secret weapons including turbojets, ending the war as an SS-Obergruppenführer. He disappeared in Czechoslovakia.
Don't think that any government would not resort to extremes to save itself or die trying. The alternative was Unconditional Surrender, and the secret weapons promised much more than they could deliver.
SS-Gruppenführer Hans Kammler inspecting a V 1 site at Saleux, France on August 10, 1944.
Post by Mark V » 23 Feb 2003, 17:59
Talking about von Braun - if he (and the team he bring with him to Huntsville) would have been put to jail, and not to work after WW2 - i think we would had seen first US satellite launch somewhere in mid 60s and moon-landing in turn of 70s/80s, if even then. If there ever had been a man that was irreplaceable, it was Wernher von Braun. Even today, year 2003 i can hardly think a better engineering accomplishment than Saturn V - 3000 tons at take-off, 3 million parts working in perfect sync - and it never failed !! (OK - large part of the credit also to American manufacturing industry - best of the world - but it was largely designed by German engineers).
>>>Lunar landing booster. Launches: 13. Failures: 0. Success Rate: 100.00%
(Ofcourse same goes to Soviets also - without Groettrup team they would have been in same position than US without von Braun team)
Wernher von Braun’s Martian Chronicles
Astronauts plan for a trip to the Martian equator over snowy terrain (1954)
Assuming everything goes according to plan, NASA’s Curiosity rover will touch down on the surface of Mars this Sunday, August 5th at 10:31 PDT. Curiosity travels in the cosmic wake of not only the pioneering landers and rovers that have made journeys to Mars before, but also the innumerable visionaries who showed us how we might get there —well before it was possible.
From 1952 until 1954, the weekly magazine Collier’s published a series of articles on space exploration spread out across eight issues. Several of the articles were written by Wernher von Braun, the former Third Reich rocket scientist who began working for the U.S. after WWII. The Collier’s series is said to have inspired countless popular visions of space travel. This impact was in no small part due to the gorgeous, colorful illustrations done by Chesley Bonestell, Fred Freeman and Rolf Klep.
The last of the Collier’s space-themed series was the April 30, 1954, issue that featured a cover showing the planet Mars and two headlines: “Can We Get to Mars?” and directly underneath: “Is There Life on Mars?” The article, “Can We Get to Mars?,” by von Braun is a fascinating read that looks at everything from the impact of meteors on spacecraft to the stresses of living in cramped quarters during such a long journey. Even when astronauts finally arrived on Mars, they’d still be subjected to claustrophobic living conditions, as you can see from the illustration above by Fred Freeman. The astronauts—who in this illustration have landed on an icy Martian pole—live in inflatable, pressurized spheres that are mounted on tractors.
Von Braun’s story in the 1954 issue explained that he didn’t believe he’d see a man on Mars within his lifetime. In fact, von Braun believed that it would likely be 100 years before a human foot would touch Martian soil. But there was absolutely no doubt that we would get there.
Will man ever go to Mars? I am sure he will—but it will be a century or more before he’s ready. In that time scientists and engineers will learn more about the physical and mental rigors of interplanetary flight—and about the unknown dangers of life on another planet. Some of that information may become available within the next 25 years or so, through the erection of a space station above the earth (where telescope viewings will not be blurred by the earth’s atmosphere) and through the subsequent exploration of the moon, as described in previous issues of Collier’s.
But unlike NASA’s current Mars mission, von Braun’s vision for travel included humans rather than simply rovers. As Erik Conway, historian at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory explains, “There have also always been—since at least Wernher von Braun—people proposing expeditions to Mars with humans, with astronauts. Von Braun’s idea was to send a flotilla of spacecraft, not just one. As you’ve seen in the Collier’s magazines and so on, he was a big promoter of that. And that affected how the American public saw Mars as well. So it was being promoted as a future abode of life for us humans—and it still is in a lot of the enthusiast literature. That hasn’t changed. It’s just the funding isn’t there to actually accomplish it.”
The funding may not be there today, but the space interest revival we’re currently seeing under the unofficial leadership of astrophysicist and media personality Neil deGrasse Tyson could very well help change that. Look for a reboot of the late Carl Sagan’s 1980 mini-series Cosmos in 2013, starring Tyson.
For now, we’ll just have to settle for the exciting discoveries that (hopefully) will be beaming down from Mars next week and some good old fashioned space art. Below are samples of the amazing illustrations from the April 30, 1954 issue of Collier’s by Bonestell, Freeman and Klep.
Workers assembling 10 rocket ships for a mission to Mars
Wernher von Braun imagined that spacecraft would be assembled 1,000 miles from earth near a wheel-shaped space station.
Spacecraft being assembled near the wheel-shaped space station, as envisioned by Wernher von Braun
The cropped illustration above, by Chesley Bonestell shows four of the ten spacecraft von Braun imagined would undertake the journey.
The first landing party takes off for Mars. Two other landing planes will wait until runway is prepared for them, and the remaining seven ships will stay in 600-mile orbit. Arms on cargo ships hold screenlike dish antenna (for communication), trough-shaped solar mirrors (for power).
Charting a course to Mars in a 1954 issue of Collier’s
The illustration above by Rolf Klep explains how the earth and Mars must be positioned in order for a successful flight to occur.
This illustration above of astronauts preparing for their return flight was done by Chesley Bonestell.
After 15 month exploration, the Mars expedition prepares for return flight to earth. Two landing planes are set on tails, with wings and landing gear removed. They will rocket back to the 600-mile orbit on first leg of journey
This illustration, by Fred Freeman shows all ten spacecraft as they travel to Mars.
Illustration shows how the landing planes are assembled in 600-mile Martian orbit. Pointed noses are removed from three of 10 ships that made trip from earth wings and landing gear are fitted to them. Cutaway of plane in the foreground shows personnel, tractors in ship
About Matt Novak
Matt Novak is the author of the Paleofuture blog, which can now be found on Gizmodo.
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