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Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun (March 23, 1912 – June 16, 1977) was a German-Americanmarker rocket physicist, astronautics engineer, and space architect, becoming one of the leading figures in the development of rocket technology in Germanymarker and the United Statesmarker. Wernher von Braun is sometimes said to be the preeminent rocket engineer of the 20th century.

In his 20s and early 30s, von Braun was the central figure in Germany's pre-war rocket development program, responsible for the design and realization of the deadly V-2 combat rocket during World War II. After the war, he and some of his rocket team were taken to the United States as part of the then-secret Operation Paperclip. In 1955, ten years after entering the country, von Braun became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Von Braun worked on the American intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) program before joining NASAmarker, where he served as director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Centermarker and the chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle, the superbooster that propelled the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon. In the words of NASA, he is "without doubt, the greatest rocket scientist in history. His crowning achievement ... was to lead the development of the Saturn V booster rocket that helped land the first men on the Moon in July 1969." He received the 1975 National Medal of Science.

Biography

Early life

Wernher von Braun was born in Wirsitzmarker (Wyrzyskmarker), Province of Posenmarker, then a part of the German Empiremarker, and was the second of three sons. He belonged to a minor aristocratic family, inheriting the German title of Freiherr (equivalent to Baron). His father, conservative civil servant Magnus Freiherr von Braun (1877–1972), served as a Minister of Agriculture in the Federal Cabinet during the Weimar Republicmarker. His mother, Emmy von Quistorp (1886–1959), could trace her ancestry through both parents to medieval European royalty. Von Braun had a younger brother, also named Magnus Freiherr von Braun. After Wernher von Braun's Lutheran confirmation, his mother gave him a telescope, and he developed a passion for astronomy. When Wyrzyskmarker returned to Poland at the end of World War I, his family, like many other German families, moved to Germanymarker. They settled in Berlinmarker, where 12-year-old von Braun, inspired by speed records established by Max Valier and Fritz von Opel, caused a major disruption in a crowded street by detonating a toy wagon to which he had attached a number of fireworks. He was taken into custody by the local police until his father came to collect him.

Von Braun was an accomplished amateur musician who could play from memory Beethoven and Bach. Von Braun learned to play the cello and the piano at an early age and originally wanted to become a composer. He took lessons from Paul Hindemith, the famous composer. The few pieces of von Braun’s youthful compositions that exist are reminiscent of Hindemith’s style.

Beginning in 1925, von Braun attended a boarding school at Ettersburgmarker castle near Weimarmarker where he did not do well in physics and mathematics. In 1928 his parents moved him to the Hermann-Lietz-Internat (also a residential school) on the East Frisian North Seamarker island of Spiekeroogmarker. There he acquired a copy of Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (1929) (By Rocket into Interplanetary Space) (in German) by rocket pioneer Hermann Oberth. Space travel had always fascinated von Braun, and from then on he applied himself to physics and mathematics to pursue his interest in rocketry.

In 1930 he attended the Technical University of Berlinmarker, where he joined the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR, the "Spaceflight Society") and assisted Willy Ley in his liquid-fueled rocket motor tests in conjunction with Hermann Oberth. He also studied at ETH Zurichmarker. Although he worked mainly on military rockets in his later years there, space travel remained his primary interest.

German career

The Prussian rocketeer and working under the Nazis

Von Braun was working on his creative doctorate when the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP, or Nazi party) was elected to power in Germany, and rocketry almost immediately became a national agenda. An artillery captain, Walter Dornberger, arranged an Ordnance Department research grant for him, and von Braun then worked next to Dornberger's existing solid-fuel rocket test site at Kummersdorf. He was awarded a doctorate in physics (aerospace engineering) on July 27, 1934 from the University of Berlinmarker for a thesis titled About Combustion Tests; his doctoral advisor was Erich Schumann. 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 April 16, 1934) was kept classified by the army, and was not published until 1960. By the end of 1934, his group had successfully launched two rockets that rose to heights of 2.2 and 3.5 kilometers.

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. Wernher von Braun used Goddard's plans from various journals and incorporated them into the building of the Aggregat (A) series of rockets. The A-4 rocket is the well known 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 V2 crashed in Sweden and some parts 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 which he had invented and inferred that his brain child had been turned into a weapon.

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 Peenemündemarker in northern Germany on the Baltic Seamarker. This location was chosen partly on the recommendation of von Braun's mother, who recalled her father's duck-hunting expeditions there. 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.

In November 1937 (other sources: December 1, 1932), von Braun joined the National Socialist German Workers Party. An Office of Military Government, United States document dated April 23, 1947, states that von Braun joined the Waffen-SS (Schutzstaffelmarker) horseback riding school in 1933, then the National Socialist Party on May 1, 1937, and became an officer in the Waffen-SS from May 1940 until the end of the war.

Amongst his comments about his NSDAP membership von Braun has said:
I was officially demanded to join the National Socialist Party.
At this time (1937) I was already technical director of the Army Rocket Center at Peenemünde ...
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 ... in Spring 1940, one SS-Standartenführer (SS Colonel) Müller ... looked me up in my office at Peenemünde and told me that Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had sent him with the order to urge me to join the SS.
I called immediately on my military superior ...
Major-General W.
Dornberger.
He informed me that ... if I wanted to continue our mutual work, I had no alternative but to join.


That claim has been often disputed because in 1940, the Waffen-SS had shown no interest in Peenemünde yet. Also, the assertion that persons in von Braun's position were pressured to join the Nazi party, let alone the SS, has been disputed. When shown a picture of him behind Himmler, Braun claimed to have worn the SS uniform only that 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 but that it was a mandatory requirementHe began as an Untersturmführer (Second Lieutenant) and was promoted three times by Himmler, the last time in June 1943 to SS-Sturmbannführer (Wehrmacht Major). Von Braun claimed this was a technical promotion received each year regularly by mail.

Schematic of the A4/V2


On December 22, 1942, Adolf Hitler signed the order approving the production of the A-4 as a "vengeance weapon" and the group developed it to target Londonmarker. Following von Braun's July 7, 1943 presentation of a color movie showing an A-4 taking off, Hitler was so enthusiastic that he personally made him a professor shortly thereafter. In Germany and at this time, this was an absolutely unusual promotion for an engineer who was only 31 years old.

By that time the British and Soviet intelligence agencies were aware of the rocket program and von Braun's team at Peenemünde. Over the nights of 17 and 18 August 1943 RAF Bomber Command's Operation Hydra dispatched raids on the Peenemünde camp consisting of 596 aircraft and dropping 1,800 tons of explosives. The facility was salvaged and most of the science 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 Englandmarker on September 7, 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, which led him to say on hearing the news from London: "The rocket worked perfectly except for landing on the wrong planet." He described it as his "darkest day".

Experiments with rocket aircraft

A regular He 112


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 112 for the experiments. Late in 1936 Erich Warsitz was seconded by the RLMmarker to Wernher von Braun and Ernst 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. After von Braun 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!”


In June 1937, at Neuhardenbergmarker (a large field about 70 kilometres east of Berlinmarker, 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 test pilot Erich Warsitz, at which time it was propelled by von Braun’s rocket power alone. Despite the wheels-up landing and having the fuselage on fire, it proved to official circles that an aircraft could be flown satisfactorily with a back-thrust system through the rear.

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 the 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 engine used direct combustion and created fire, the Walter devices hot vapours from a chemical reaction, but both created thrust and provided high speed. The subsequent flights with the He 112 used the Walter-rocket instead of von Braun's; it was more reliable, simpler to operate and the dangers to test-pilot Erich Warsitz and machine were less.

Slave labor

SS General Hans Kammler, who as an engineer had constructed several concentration camps including Auschwitzmarker, 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 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-Doramarker concentration camp itself, where 20,000 died from illness, beatings, hangings and intolerable working conditions.

On August 15, 1944, von Braun wrote a letter to Albin Sawatzki, manager of the V-2 production, admitting that he personally picked labor slaves from the Buchenwald concentration campmarker, who, he admitted 25 years later in an interview, had been in a "pitiful shape".

In Wernher von Braun: Crusader for Space, numerous statements by von Braun show he was aware of the conditions but felt completely unable to change them. A friend quotes von Braun speaking of a visit to Mittelwerk:

It is hellish.
My spontaneous reaction was to talk to one of the SS guards, only to be told with unmistakable harshness that I should mind my own business, or find myself in the same striped fatigues!...
I realized that any attempt of reasoning on humane grounds would be utterly futile.
(Page 44)


When asked if von Braun could have protested against the brutal treatment of the slave laborers, von Braun team member Konrad Dannenberg told The Huntsville Times, "If he had done it, in my opinion, he would have been shot on the spot."

Others 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:

Without even listening to my explanations, [von Braun] ordered the Meister to have me given 25 strokes...Then, judging that the strokes weren't sufficiently hard, he ordered I be flogged more vigorously...von Braun made me translate that I deserved much more, that in fact I deserved to be hanged...I would say his cruelty, of which I was personally a victim, are, I would say, an eloquent testimony to his Nazi fanaticism.


Robert Cazabonne, another French prisoner, testified that von Braun stood by and watched as prisoners were hung by chains from hoists. Von Braun claimed he "never saw any kind of abuse or killing" and only "heard rumors...that some prisoners had been hung in the underground galleries".

Arrest and release by the Nazi regime

According to André Sellier, a French historian and survivor of the Mittelbau-Doramarker concentration camp, Himmler had von Braun come to his Hochwald HQ in East Prussia in February 1944. To increase his power-base within the Nazi régime, Heinrich Himmler was conspiring to use Kammler to wrest control of all German armament programs, including the V-2 program at Peenemünde. 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's assistance.

Apparently von Braun had been under SDmarker surveillance since October 1943. A report stated that he and his colleagues Riedel and Gröttrup were said to have expressed regret at an engineer's house one evening 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. Combined with Himmler's false charges that von Braun was a communist sympathizer and had attempted to sabotage the V-2 program, and considering that von Braun was a qualified pilot who regularly piloted his government-provided airplane that might allow him to escape to England, this led to his arrest by the Gestapomarker.

The unsuspecting von Braun was detained on March 14 (or March 15), 1944 and was taken to a Gestapo cell in Stettinmarker (now Szczecin, Poland), where he was imprisoned for two weeks without even knowing the charges against him. It was only through the Abwehr in Berlinmarker that Dornberger was able to obtain von Braun's conditional release and Albert Speer, Reichsminister for Munitions and War Production, convinced Hitler to reinstate von Braun so that the V-2 program could continue. Citing from the "Führerprotokoll" (the minutes of Hitler's meetings) dated May 13, 1944 in his memoirs, Speer later relayed what Hitler had finally conceded: "In the matter concerning B. I will guarantee you that he will be exempt from persecution as long as he is indispensable for you, in spite of the difficult general consequences this will have."

Surrender to the Americans

Von Braun (with armcast) immediately after his surrender
The Soviet Army was about 160 km from Peenemündemarker 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 Soviet cruelty to prisoners of war, von Braun and his staff decided to try to surrender to the Americans. Kammler had ordered relocation of von Braun's team into 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. For fear of their documents being destroyed by the SS, von Braun ordered the blueprints to be hidden in an abandoned mine shaft in the Harzmarker mountain range.

While on an official trip in March, von Braun suffered a complicated fracture of his left arm and shoulder 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 re-broken and re-aligned.

In April, as the allied forces advanced deeper into Germany, Kammler ordered the science team to be moved by train into the town of Oberammergaumarker in the Bavarian Alpsmarker 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 dispersion of the group into nearby villages so that they would not be an easy target for U.S. bombers.

On May 2, 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, 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 by the Bible 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 June 19, 1945, two days before the scheduled handover of the area to the Soviets, US Army Major Robert B. Staver, Chief of the Jet Propulsion Section of the Research and Intelligence Branch of the US Army Ordnance in London, and Lt Col R. L. Williams took von Braun and his department chiefs by jeep from Garmisch to Munich. The group was flown to Nordhausenmarker, and was evacuated southwest to Witzenhausenmarker, a small town in the American Zone, the next day. Von Braun was subsequently recruited to the U.S. under Operation Overcast.

American career

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; however this was not announced to the public until October 1, 1945. Since the paperwork of those Germans selected for transfer to the United States was indicated by paperclips, the transfer of von Braun and his colleagues became known as Operation Paperclip, an operation that resulted in the employment of many German scientists by the U.S. Army.

The first seven technicians arrived in the United States at New Castle Army Air Fieldmarker, just south of Wilmington, Delawaremarker, on September 20, 1945. They were then flown to Bostonmarker 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 Groundmarker in Marylandmarker 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, Texasmarker, a large Army installation just north of El Pasomarker. While there, they trained military, industrial and university personnel in the intricacies of rockets and guided missiles. As part of the Hermes project they helped to refurbish, assemble and launch a number of V-2s that had been shipped from Germany to the White Sands Proving Groundmarker in New Mexicomarker. 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."



During his stay at Fort Bliss, von Braun mailed a marriage proposal to 18-year-old Maria Luise von Quistorp, his cousin on his mother's side. 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 Landshutmarker, Germany. He and his bride and his father and mother returned to New Yorkmarker on March 26, 1947. On 9 December 1948, the von Brauns' first daughter, Iris Careen, was born at Fort Bliss Army Hospital. The von Brauns eventually had two more children, Margrit Cécile on May 8, 1952 and Peter Constantine on June 2, 1960. On April 15, 1955, von Braun became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

In 1950, at the start of the Korean War, von Braun and his team were transferred to Huntsville, Alabamamarker, his home for the next twenty years. Between 1950 and 1956, von Braun led the Army's rocket development team at Redstone Arsenalmarker, resulting in the Redstone rocket, which was used for the first live nuclear ballistic missile tests conducted by the United States.

As director of the Development Operations Division of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA), 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 January 31, 1958. This event signaled the birth of America's 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 Unionmarker, 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 only embarked on a very modest rocket-building program. In the meantime, the press tended to dwell on von Braun's past as a member of the SS and the slave labor used to build his V-2 rockets.

Popular concepts for a human presence in space

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 world in which rockets would be used for space exploration. However, instead of risking being sacked, he now was increasingly in a position to popularize these ideas. The May 14, 1950 headline of The Huntsville Times ("Dr. von Braun Says Rocket Flights Possible to Moon") might have marked the beginning of these efforts. In 1952, von Braun first published his concept of a manned space station in a Collier's 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. 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), 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. (More than a decade later, the movie version of 2001: A Space Odyssey would draw heavily on this design concept in its visualization of the orbital space station.) The ultimate purpose of the space station would be to provide an assembly platform for manned lunar expeditions.

Von Braun envisaged these expeditions as very large-scale undertakings, with a total of 50 astronauts travelling in three huge spacecraft (two for crew, one primarily for cargo), each 49 m long and 33 m in diameter and driven by a rectangular array of 30 jet propulsion engines. Upon arrival, astronauts would establish a permanent lunar base in the Sinus Rorismarker 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 expedition in pressurized rovers to the crater Harpalusmarker and the Mare Imbriummarker foothills.

At this time von Braun also worked out preliminary concepts for a manned Mars mission which used the space station as a staging point. His initial plans, published in The Mars Project (1952), had envisaged a fleet of ten spacecraft (each with a mass of 3,720 metric tons), three of them unmanned and each carrying one 200-ton winged lander in addition to cargo, and nine crew vehicles transporting a total of 70 astronauts. Gigantic as this mission plan was, its engineering and astronautical parameters 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, set in 1980, on the subject. According to his biographer, Erik Bergaust, the manuscript was rejected by no less 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 March 9, 1955.

Concepts for orbital warfare

Von Braun developed and published his space station concept during the very "coldest" time of the Cold War, when the U.S. government for which he worked 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. Although von Braun took care to qualify such military applications as "particularly dreadful" in his popular writings, he elaborated on them in several of his books and articles. This much less peaceful aspect of von Braun's "drive for space" has recently been reviewed by Michael J. Neufeld from the Space History Division of the National Air and Space Museummarker in Washington.

NASA career





Still with his rocket models, von Braun is pictured in his new office at NASA headquarters in 1970


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, there was a growing perception within the United States that America lagged behind the Soviet Union in the emerging Space Race. American authorities then chose to utilize von Braun and his German team's experience with missiles to create an orbital launch vehicle.

NASA was established by law on July 29, 1958. One day later, the 50th Redstone rocket was successfully launched from Johnston Atollmarker in the south Pacific as part of Operation Hardtack. Two years later, NASA opened the new Marshall Space Flight Centermarker at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabamamarker, and the 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 was allowed to continue. Presiding from July 1960 to February 1970, von Braun became the center's first Director.

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 manned moon flights was developed. Wernher 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 more risky lunar orbit rendezvous concept that was subsequently realized. His 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 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 played an instrumental role in the development of the U.S.marker Space & Rocket Centermarker in Huntsville. The desk from which he guided America's entry in the Space Race remains on display there.



During the local summer of 1966/67, von Braun participated in a field trip to Antarcticamarker, 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 US scientific and technological community during the exploration of Antarctic wastelands would be useful for the manned 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 January 16, 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. 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 manned missions to Mars in the 1980s.

However, on March 1, 1970, von Braun and his family relocated to Washington, D.C.marker, 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 May 26, 1972. Not only had it become evident by this time that his and NASA's visions for future U.S. space flight projects were incompatible; 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.

Career after NASA

After leaving NASA, von Braun became Vice President for Engineering and Development at the aerospace company, Fairchild Industries in Germantown, Marylandmarker on July 1, 1972.

In 1973 a routine health check uncovered kidney cancer which during the following years could not be controlled by surgery. 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 with students and a new generation of engineers. On one such visit in the spring of 1974 to Allegheny Collegemarker, von Braun revealed a more personal, down-to-earth side of himself as a man in his early 60s, beyond the public persona most saw, including an all-too-human allergy to feather pillows and a subtle, if not humorous disdain for some rock music of the era.

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 condition forced him to retire from Fairchild on December 31 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.

Death

Grave of Wernher von Braun in Ivy Hill Cemetery (Alexandria, Virginia)


On June 16, 1977, Wernher von Braun died of pancreatic cancer in Alexandria, Virginiamarker, at the age of 65. He was buried at the Ivy Hill Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginiamarker. His gravesite can be found at the following link.[5989]

Published works

    • The proposed vertical take-off interceptor for climbing to 35,000 ft in 60 seconds was rejected by the Luftwaffe in the autumn of 1941 for the Me 163 Komet and never produced. (The differing Bachem Ba 349marker was produced during the 1944 Emergency Fighter Program.)
  • The Mars Project, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, (1953). With Henry J. White, translator.
  • First Men to the Moon, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York (1958). Portions of work first appeared in This Week Magazine.
  • History of Rocketry & Space Travel, New York, Crowell (1975). With Frederick I. Ordway III.
  • The Rocket's Red Glare, Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, (1976). With Frederick I. Ordway III.
  • Project Mars: A Technical Tale, Apogee Books, Toronto (2006). A previously unpublished science fiction story by von Braun. Accompanied by paintings from Chesley Bonestell and von Braun's own technical papers on the proposed project.
  • The Voice of Dr. Wernher von Braun, Apogee Books, Toronto (2007). A collection of speeches delivered by von Braun over the course of his career.
  • Wernher von Braun, Crusader for Space, A Biographical Memoir, Ernst Stuhlinger and Fredrick I. Ordway III, Krieger ISBN 0-89464-842-X. Two volumes on the life of von Braun,


Quotations

Upon surrendering with his rocket team to the Americans in 1945: "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 by the Bible could such an assurance to the world be best secured."

"All of man's scientific and engineering efforts will be in vain unless they are performed and utilized within a framework of ethical standards commensurate with the magnitude of the scope of the technological revolution. The more technology advances, the more fateful will be its impact on humanity."

"You must accept one of two basic premises: Either we are alone in the universe, or we are not alone in the universe. And either way, the implications are staggering".

"If the world's ethical standards fail to rise with the advances of our technological revolution, the world will go to hell. Let us remember that in the horse-and-buggy days nobody got hurt if the coachman had a drink too many. In our times of high-powered automobiles, however, that same drink may be fatal...."

On Adolf Hitler: "I began to see the shape of the man – his brilliance, the tremendous force of personality. It gripped you somehow. But also you could see his flaw — he was wholly without scruples, a godless man who thought himself the only god, the only authority he needed."

Honors



Recognition and critique

  • Apollo space program director Sam Phillips was quoted as saying that he did not think that America 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 America would have reached the moon at all.
  • The crater von Braunmarker on the Moon is named after him.
  • Von Braun received a total of 12 honorary doctorates, among them (on January 8, 1963) one from the Technical University of Berlinmarker from which he had graduated.
  • 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.
  • Several German cities (Bonnmarker, Neu-Isenburgmarker, Mannheimmarker, Mainzmarker), and dozens of smaller towns have named streets after Wernher von Braun.
  • The Von Braun Centermarker (built 1975) in Huntsville, Alabamamarker is named in von Braun's honor.
  • Scrutiny of von Braun's use of forced labor at the Mittelwerk intensified again in 1984 when Arthur Rudolph, one of his top affiliates from the A-4/V2 through to the Apollo projects, left the United States and was forced to renounce his citizenship in place of the alternative of being tried for war crimes.
  • A science- and engineering-oriented Gymnasium in Friedberg, Bavariamarker was named after Wernher von Braun in 1979. In response to rising criticism, a school committee decided in 1995, after lengthy deliberations, to keep the name but "to address von Braun's ambiguity in the advanced history classes."
  • An avenue in the Annadale section of Staten Islandmarker, NY was named for him in 1977.


Cultural references

On film and television

Wernher von Braun has been featured in a number of movies and television shows or series about the Space Race:

Several fictional characters have been modeled on von Braun:

There are other references to von Braun in fiction as well:
  • Mobile Suit Gundam (1979): The largest Lunar city in the Universal Century era is called 'Von Braun City'. The city is the home of Anaheim Electronics, is a strategic point in space, and is built around Neil Armstrong's footprint in the Apollo missions.
  • Mababangong Bangungot (1977): Director and star Kidlat Tahimik is president of a Wernher von Braun club and is fascinated with "First World" progress, particularly von Braun's efforts in the U.S. space program.
  • Planetes (TV, 2004): There is an upcoming exploratory mission to Jupiter on a new fusion powered ship, the Von Braun.
  • Alien Planet (TV, 2005): A spacecraft, named Von Braun, is named after him.
  • In Back to the Future Part III, character "Doc" Emmett Brown reveals a possible relation to von Braun by saying that his paternal side of the family arrived in Hill Valey, California in 1908 - "when they were still called von Braun!"


In print media

  • In an issue of Mad Magazine in the late 1950s, artist Wallace Wood depicted von Braun at the launch of a rocket, ready to listen to a radio transmitting the rocket's signals. Suddenly he says, "HIMMEL! Vas ist los?" and then explains, "Vat iss wrong is vit der RADIO! It iss AC...und der control room iss DC!"
  • In Warren Ellis' graphic novel Ministry of Space, Von Braun is a supporting character, settling in Britain after World War II, and being essential for the realization of the British Space Program.


In novels

  • The Good German by Joseph Kanon. Von Braun and other scientists are said to have been implicated in the use of slave labour at Peenemünde; their transfer to the US forms part of the narrative.
  • Space by James Michener. Von Braun and other German scientists are brought to the US and form a vital part of the US efforts to reach space.
  • Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. The plot involves British intelligence attempting to avert and predict V-2 rocket attacks. The work even includes a gyroscopic equation for the V2. The first portion of the novel, "Beyond The Zero", begins with a quote from Von Braun: "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."
  • New Dictionary, a short story by Kurt Vonnegut in his collection Welcome to the Monkey House notes Von Braun as one of the things an old dictionary doesn't mention.
  • Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut has a scene in which a character reads a Life magazine with Von Braun on the cover.
  • DORA by Jean Michel. This is not a novel but a memoir.
  • Rocket Boys by Homer H. Hickam, Jr. The movie "October Sky" was based on this memoir about a boy, Sonny (in the movie, he's called Homer) Hickam, who lives in a small West Virginia coal town and builds rockets and greatly admires von Braun. Although not about von Braun it is a vivid picture of popular attitudes toward rocket science and von Braun during the early days of the U. S. space program.


In music

  • Wernher von Braun (1965): A song written and performed by Tom Lehrer for an episode of NBC's American version of the BBC TV show That Was The Week That Was; the song was later included in Lehrer's album That Was The Year That Was. It was a satire on what some saw as von Braun's cavalier attitude toward the consequences of his work in Nazi Germany: "'Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? / That's not my department', says Wernher von Braun." Contrary to popular belief, Wernher von Braun did not sue Tom Lehrer for defamation, nor has Lehrer been forced to relinquish all of his royalty income to Von Braun. Lehrer firmly denied these claims in a 2003 interview.
  • The Last Days of Pompeii (1991): A rock opera by Grant Hart's post-Hüsker Dü alternative rock group Nova Mob, in which von Braun features as a character. The album includes a song called Wernher von Braun.
  • Progress vs. Pettiness (2005): A song about the Space Race written and performed by The Phenomenauts for their CD Re-Entry. The song begins: "In 1942 there was Wernher von Braun..."
  • John D. Loudermilk's song He's Just A Scientist (That's All) contains the lyric "Everybody's flippin' over Fabian or Frankie Avalon, but nobody ever seems to give a flip over Dr Werner Von Braun."
  • The song "Apollo XI/V1/V2/Aggregat 4" from German Electro band Welle:Erdball deals with his inventions.


In computer games



See also



References

Notes

  1. http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Library/Giants/vonBraun/
  2. Ward, Bob. Dr. Space: The Life of Wernher von Braun (US Naval Institute Press , 2005) p. 11.
  3. Various sources such as The Nazi Rocketeers (ISBN 0811733874 pp 5-8) list young Von Braun as joining the VfR as an apprentice to Willy Ley, one of the three founders. Later when Ley fled Germany because he was a Jew, Von Braun took over the leadership and changed its activity to military development.
  4. http://www.astronautix.com/astros/vonbraun.htm
  5. Neufeld, Michael J. Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War (Knopf, 2007) p. 61.
  6. Konstruktive, theoretische und experimentelle Beiträge zu dem Problem der Flüssigkeitsrakete. Raketentechnik und Raumfahrtforschung, Sonderheft 1 (1960), Stuttgart, Germany.
  7. The Nazi Rocketeers, From Dreams of Space to Crimes of War pp 58. (See extensive bibliography)
  8. Dr. Space, the Life of Wernher von Braun pp 35
  9. pp 36
  10. Mr. Space pp 35.
  11. ibid
  12. Speer, Albert (1969). Erinnerungen (p. 377). Verlag Ullstein GmbH, Frankfurt a.M. and Berlin, [ISBN 3-550-06074-2].
  13. Warsitz, 2009, p. 30.
  14. Warsitz, Lutz: THE FIRST JET PILOT - The Story of German Test Pilot Erich Warsitz (p. 35), Pen and Sword Books Ltd., England, 2009, [ISBN 9781844158188].
  15. Warsitz, 2009, p. 51.
  16. Warsitz, 2009, p. 41.
  17. Warsitz, 2009, p. 55.
  18. Mittelbau Overview
  19. Biddle, Wayne. Dark Side of the Moon (W.W. Norton, 2009) pp. 124-125.
  20. Biddle, p. 125.
  21. Biddle, pp. 123-124.
  22. Ward 2005, pp. 38–40.
  23. Arts & Entertainment, Biography (1959-1961 series). Mike Wallace, television biography of Wernher von Braun, video clip of the press statement.
  24. Archived
  25. von Braun, Wernher: Project MARS: A Technical Tale. ISBN 0973820330, ISBN 978-0973820331)
  26. Neufeld MJ: "Space superiority": Wernher von Braun's campaign for a nuclear-armed space station, 1946–1956. Space Policy 2006; 22:52–62.
  27. Space Man's Look at Antarctica. Popular Science, Vol. 190, No. 5, May 1967, pp. 114-116.
  28. German sources mostly specify the cancer as renal, while American biographies unanimously just mention cancer. The time when von Braun learned about the disease is generally given as between 1973 and 1976. The characteristics of renal cell carcinoma, which has a bad prognosis even today, do not rule out either time limit.
  29. Neufeld 2007, p 151
  30. David Wolper, television series, Biography (1961-64), Wherner von Braun.
  31. Eric Bergaust, Wernher von Braun (Washington, D.C.: National Space Institute, 1976), p. 166
  32. Bergaust, ibid., p. 62.
  33. William E., Sr. Winterstein Secrets Of The Space Age: The Sacrifices and Struggles To Get To The Moon; The Aftermath: What Happened After Lunar Mission, Intrigue and United States Space Heroes Betrayed (Hardcover) Robert D. Reed Publishers June 30, 2005 ISBN 1931741492
  34. Neufield, Von Braun, p. 406. Dr Strangelove was widely held to be a composite of Edward Teller, Herman Kahn, and von Braun; but only von Braun shared Strangelove's Nazi past.
  35. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTKn1aSOyOs
  36. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/02/28/1046407753895.html


Bibliography

  • Erlebnisbericht Adam Cabala, in: Fiedermann, Heß, Jaeger: Das KZ Mittelbau Dora. Ein historischer Abriss. Berlin 1993, S.100


Further reading



External links




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