Wernher Von Braun was one of the world's first and foremost rocket engineers and a leading authority on space travel. His will to expand man's
knowledge through the exploration of space led to the development of the Explorer satellites, the Jupiter and Jupiter-C rockets, Pershing, the
Redstone rocket, Saturn rockets, and Skylab, the world's first space station. Additionally, his determination to "go where no man has gone before"
led to mankind setting foot on the moon.
Living in Huntsville, Alabama from 1950 to 1970, Dr. von Braun first directed the technical development of the U.S. Army's ballistic missile program
at Redstone Arsenal, and later served as Director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.
Wernher von Braun holding a model of the V-2 rocket in the early 1950's.
The V-2 Rocket
The A-4, later called the V-2, was a single-stage rocket fueled by alcohol and liquid oxygen. It stood 46.1 feet high and had a thrust of 56,000
pounds. The A-4 had a payload capacity of 2,200 pounds and could reach a velocity of 3,500 miles per hour. On October 3, 1942 the A-4 was first
launched from Peenemunde. Breaking the sound barrier, it reached an altitude of sixty miles. It was the world's first launch of a ballistic missile
and the first rocket ever to go into the fringes of space.
Dr. Werner von Braun poses at Complex 37 during SA-6 countdown
Von Braun: Germany
In the early 1930's, rocket clubs sprang up all over Germany. One of these clubs, the Verein fur Raumschiffarht (Rocket Society), had the young
engineer Wernher von Braun as a member.
During this same period of time the German military was searching for a weapon which would not violate the Versailles Treaty of World War I, and at
the same time defend Germany. Artillery captain Walter Dornberger was assigned to investigate the feasibility of using rockets. Dornberger went to see
the VfR and, being impressed with their enthusiasm, gave them $400 to build a rocket. Wernher von Braun worked through the spring and summer of 1932,
only to have the rocket fail when tested in front of the military. However, Dornberger was impressed with von Braun and hired him to lead the
military's rocket artillery unit.
By 1934 von Braun and Dornberger had a team of 80 engineers building rockets in Kummersdorf, about 60 miles south of Berlin. Von Braun's natural
talents as a leader shone, as well as his ability to assimilate great quantities of data while keeping in mind the big picture. With the successful
launch of two rockets, Max and Moritz, in 1934, von Braun's proposal to work on a jet-assisted take-off device for heavy bombers and all-rocket
fighters was granted. However, Kummersdorf was too small for the task, so a new facility had to be built.
Peenemunde, located on the Baltic coast, was chosen as the new site. Peenemunde was large enough to launch and monitor rockets over ranges up to about
200 miles, with optical and electric observing instruments along the trajectory, with no risk of harming people and property.
By now Hitler had taken over Germany and Herman Goering ruled the Luftwaffe. Dornberger held a public test of the A-2 which was greatly successful.
Funding continued to flow to von Braun's team, developing the A-3 and finally the A-4.
In 1943 Hitler decided to use the A-4 as a "vengeance weapon," and the group found themselves developing the A-4 to rain explosives on London.
Fourteen months after Hitler ordered it into production, the first combat A-4, now called the V-2, was launched toward western Europe on September 7,
1944. When the first V-2 hit London von Braun remarked to his colleagues, "The rocket worked perfectly except for landing on the wrong planet."
The SS and the Gestapo arrested von Braun for crimes against the state because he persisted in talking about building rockets which would go into
orbit around the Earth and perhaps go to the Moon. His crime was indulging in frivolous dreams when he should have been concentrating on building
bigger rocket bombs for the Nazi war machine. Dornberger convinced the SS and the Gestapo to release von Braun because without him there would be no
V-2 and Hitler would have them all shot.
On arriving back at Peenemunde, von Braun immediately assembled his planning staff and asked them to decide how and to whom they should surrender.
Most of the scientists were frightened of the Russians, they felt the French would treat them like slaves, and the British did not have enough money
to afford a rocket program. That left the Americans. After stealing a train with forged papers, von Braun led 500 people through war-torn Germany to
surrender to the Americans. The SS were issued orders to kill the German engineers, who hid their notes in a mine shaft and evaded their own army
while searching for the Americans. Finally, the team found an American private and surrendered to him. Realizing the importance of these engineers,
the Americans immediately went to Peenemunde and Nordhausen and captured all of the remaining V-2's and V-2 parts, then destroyed both places with
explosives. The Americans brought over 300 train car loads of spare V-2 parts to the United States. Much of von Braun's production team was captured
by the Russians.
[img]Von Braun: Moving to the U.S.
On June 20, 1945, U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull approved the transfer of von Braun's German rocket specialists. This transfer was known as
Operation Paperclip because, of the large number of Germans stationed at Army Ordnance, the paperwork of those selected to come to the United States
were indicated by paperclips.
They arrived in the United States at New Castle Army Air Base, just south of Wilmington, DE. Afterwards, they were flown to Boston, and then taken by
boat to an Army Intelligence Service post at Fort Strong in Boston Harbor. Later, with the exception of von Braun, the men were transferred to
Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland to sort out the Peenemunde documents. Those documents would enable the scientists to continue their rocketry
experiments where they had left off.
Finally, von Braun and the 126 Peenemunders were transferred to their new home at Fort Bliss, Texas, a large Army installation just north of El Paso,
under the command of Major James P. Hamill. They found themselves in a strange situation as they began their new lives in America. Because they could
not leave Fort Bliss without a military escort, they sometimes referred to themselves as "PoPs", Prisoners of Peace.
While at Fort Bliss, they were tasked to train military, industrial, and university personnel in the intricacies of rockets and guided missiles and to
help refurbish, assemble, and launch a number of V-2's that had been shipped from Germany to the White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico. Further,
they were to study the future potential of rockets for military and research applications.
During this time, von Braun mailed a marriage proposal to 18-year old Maria von Quirstorp. On March 1, 1947, he married her in a local Lutheran
church. In December 1948, his first daughter, Iris was born at Fort Bliss Army Hospital.
Dr. Werner von Braun briefs President Kennedy at Complex 37
President Kennedy, V.P. Johnson and others attend an Apollo briefing at Cape Canaveral
[Edited on 28-10-2002 by quaneeri]
[Edited on 28-10-2002 by quaneeri]
[Edited on 28-10-2002 by quaneeri]