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Wernher von Braun

Wernher von Braun

The German-born American space scientist Wernher von Braun (1912-1977), the "father of space travel," developed the first practical space rockets and launch vehicles.

Born March 23, 1912, in Wirsitz, Posen (Germany), his father, Baron Magnus von Braun, was a founder of the German Savings Bank, a member of the Weimar Republic Cabinet and minister of agriculture. His mother, the former Emmy von Quistorp, an excellent musician and outstanding amateur astronomer, exerted a strong influence on her son.

At the French Gymnasium, Wernher excelled in languages but failed physics and mathematics. He then attended the Hermann Lietz School at Ettersburg Castle, a school famous for its advanced teaching methods and emphasis on practical trades. He soon developed an intense interest in astronomy. Fascination with the theories of space flight then prompted him to study mathematics and physics with renewed interest. Before he graduated, he was teaching mathematics and tutoring deficient students.

Von Braun enrolled in the Charlottenburg Institute of Technology in Berlin. He became an active member of the VfR (Verein für Raumschiffahrt, or Society for Space Travel) and an associate of Hermann Oberth, Willy Ley and other leading German rocket enthusiasts.

Soon afterward Oberth came to Berlin at the request of the VfR, and von Braun became his student assistant. Together they developed a small rocket engine which was a technical success. Funding for the project, however, ended and Oberth returned to his native Romania. Von Braun and his associates continued their work at an abandoned field outside Berlin and used the old buildings for laboratories and living quarters.

For a time von Braun attended the Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. There he began the study of the physiological effects of space flight, conducting crude experiments with mice in a centrifuge. The experiments convinced him that man could withstand the rapid acceleration and deceleration of space flight. He then returned to reenter Charlottenburg Institute and work at the rocket field.

German Army Rocket Program

Adolf Hitler manipulated his way to power during the Weimar Republic and became chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. He then maneuvered a parliamentary coup, suspended the constitution and began rule by decree. Still smarting from the restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, the German army yearned to rebuild. The treaty had forbidden Germany to have any gun, cannon, or weapon with a bore exceeding three inches. But the Nazis saw a loophole. The treaty did not envision rockets and made no mention of them. So German military planners hoped to develop rockets as weapons. German army ordnance experts then began frequent visits to the rocket field and monitored the rocket development work. Impressed with the knowledge and scope of von Braun's imagination, they invited him to continue his research at the army's new Kummersdorf facilities. On Oct. 1, 1932, he officially joined the German Army Ordnance Office rocket program. He subsequently received his doctorate in physics from the University of Berlin in 1934. By that time, he was technical director at Kummersdorf with a staff of 80 scientists and technicians.

Rocket Development at Peenemünde

The Nazis moved the rocket center to Peenemünde, on Germany's Baltic coast, in 1937 and made von Braun technical director. When World War II began, Germany gave rocket development assumed highest priority. Work was well under way on a rocket 46 feet long with a thrust of 55,000 pounds, the largest in the world at that time. (By contrast, Oberth's first rocket had a thrust of 20 pounds; the Saturn V booster stage generated a thrust of 7.5 million pounds.) This rocket, later to be known as the V-2, was an enormous technical challenge. It required significant advances in aerodynamics, propulsion and guidance. Von Braun's team attacked the problems, and despite initial setbacks, persevered. They successfully produced V-2. The Nazis wanted it as a weapon of war. Von Braun had a different vision: space travel.

His interest in space exploration rather than military application led to his arrest and imprisonment by the German secret police. The Nazis released him only after they realized the implication of jailing their lead rocket scientist. The program lurched backward without his leadership. It disrupted Hitler's timetable for the war.

By 1943 the rocket complex at Peenemünde was a priority Allied target. When Germany was near collapse, von Braun evacuated his staff to an area where they might be captured by the Americans. He reasoned that the United States was the nation most likely to use its resources for space exploration. He led more than 5,000 of his associates and their families to the southwest just before the Russians advanced into the abandoned rocket development center. The rocket team surrendered to U.S. Forces on May 2, 1945.

Early U.S. Rocket Experiments

During interrogation by Allied intelligence officers, von Braun prepared a report on rocket development and applications in which he forecast trips to the moon, orbiting satellites and space stations. Recognizing the scope of von Braun's work, the U.S. Army authorized the transfer of von Braun, 112 of his engineers and scientists, 100 V-2 rockets and the rocket technical data to the United States.

Von Braun and his advance group arrived in the United States as "wards of the Army" on Sept. 29, 1945. They arrived at Ft. Bliss, Tex. with a mandate to re-assemble and further develop A-4 rockets, the German successor to the V-2. There they taught what they knew to what was then a limited audience. The team moved what is now White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico in 1946 and then to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama in 1950 where von Braun remained for the next twenty years. He used his free time to write about space travel and to correspond with his family and his cousin, Maria von Quistorp. In early 1947 he obtained permission to return to Germany to marry Maria. They had three children.

Von Braun continued work on V-2 launchings, conducting some of the earliest experiments in recording atmospheric conditions, photographing the earth from high altitudes, perfecting guidance systems, and conducting medical experiments with animals in space. He also completed his book, The Mars Project, an account of planetary exploration, but he was unable to interest a publisher until much later.

The U.S. Army gave von Braun the job of developing the Redstone rocket, which was to play a significant role in America's early space program. On April 15, 1955, von Braun and 40 of his associates became naturalized citizens.

The Russian space program outstripped that of the United States in the 1950s. Von Braun warned American officials of this repeatedly, in official communications and in public speeches, but his numerous requests for permission to orbit a satellite were denied. When the Russians successfully orbited Sputnik I and the U.S. Navy's Vanguard program failed, the United States finally unleased von Braun's group. Within 90 days, using a modified Redstone rocket (the Jupiter C), and with the cooperation of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology, the team launched into orbit the free world's first satellite Explorer I on January 31, 1958.

U.S. Space Program

After creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, they appointed von Braun director of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center at Huntsville on July 1, 1960. For the first time, von Braun found his efforts directed to the development of launch vehicles solely to explore space. The space agency sought his advice about techniques later used in the landing on the moon. On Oct. 27, 1961, agency launched the first Saturn I vehicle. It was 162 feet long, weighed 460 tons at lift-off, and rose to a height of 85 miles. On Nov. 9, 1967, the newer Saturn V made its debut. It was more than twice as long as the Saturn I. Just before Christmas, 1968, a Saturn V launch vehicle, developed under von Braun's direction, launched Apollo 8, the world's first spacecraft to travel to the moon. In March 1970, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) transferred von Braun to its headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he became Deputy Associate Administrator.

Von Braun resigned from NASA in July, 1972, to become vice president for engineering and development with Fairchild Industries of Germantown, Maryland. Besides his work for that aerospace firm, he continued his efforts to promote human space flight, helping to found the National Space Institute in 1975 and serving as its first president. On June 16, 1977, he died of cancer at a hospital in Alexandria, Virginia.

Von Braun was always a firm believer in personal experience as a teacher, and often took part in experiments conducted to determine the physiological aspects of space flight. Long before the acceptance of the feasibility of space flight, he subjected himself to experiments in weightlessness and high acceleration.

Considered one of the world's great scientists, von Braun was a profoundly religious man. On one occasion he remarked: "We should remember that science exists only because there are people, and its concepts exist only in the minds of men. Behind these concepts lies the reality which is being revealed to us, but only by the grace of God."

Further Reading

Erik Bergaust, Reaching for the Stars (1960); Helen B. Walters, Wernher von Braun: Rocket Engineer (1964); Heather M. David, Wernher von Braun (1967); and John Goodrum, Wernher von Braun: Space Pioneer (1969). The most detailed accounts of German rocket development under Von Braun and the experiences of the German rocket team are in Walter Dornberger, V-2 (1952; trans. 1954), and Dieter K. Huzel, Peenemünde to Canaveral (1962). An excellent account of the U.S. Army's rocket development efforts under Von Braun and the launching of Explorer I is given in John B. Medaris, Countdown for Decision (1960). For additional background see Wernher von Braun and Frederick I. Ordway, History of Rocketry and Space Travel (1967); Edward O. Buckbee, Biographical Data: Wernher von Braun (1983); Hunt, Linda, Secret Agenda: The United States Government, Nazi Scientists, and Project Paperclip (1991); and Ernst Stulinger and Frederick Ordway, Wernher von Braun: Crusader for Space (1994). □

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Braun, Wernher von (1912-1977)

Braun, Wernher von (1912-1977)

German-born American aerospace engineer

Wernher von Braun was the most famous rocket engineer of his time, noted promoter of space flight. Teams under his direction designed the V2, Redstone, Jupiter, and Pershing missiles, as well as the Jupiter C, Juno, and Saturn launch vehicles that carried most of the early U.S. satellites and spacecraft beyond the earth's atmosphere and ultimately to the moon . He became both a celebrity and a national hero in the United States, winning numerous awards, including the first Robert H. Goddard Memorial Trophy in 1958, the Distinguished Federal Civilian Service Award (presented by President Dwight D. Eisenhower) in 1959, and the National Medal of Science in 1977. As President Jimmy Carter stated at the time of his death: "To millions of Americans, [his] name was inextricably linked to our exploration of space and to the creative application of technology. He was not only a skillful engineer but also a man of bold vision; his inspirational leadership helped mobilize and maintain the effort we needed to reach the Moon and beyond."

The second of three children (all male), Wernher Magnus Maximilian von Braun was born in the east German town of Wirsitz (later, Wyrzysk, Poland). He was the son of Baron Magnus Alexander Maximilian von Braunthen the principal magistrate (Landrat ) of the governmental district and later (1932early 1933) the minister of nutrition and agriculture in the last two governments of the Weimar Republic before Hitler rose to power in Germanyand of Emmy (von Quistorp) von Braun, a well-educated woman from the Swedish-German aristocracy with a strong interest in biology and astronomy . She inspired her son's interest in space flight by supplying him with the science fiction works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells and by giving him a telescope as a gift upon his confirmation into the Lutheran church in his early teens, instead of the customary watch or camera. Despite these influences, the young von Braun was initially a weak student and was held back one year in secondary school because of his inability in math and physics . Due to his interest in astronomy and rockets, he obtained a copy of space pioneer Hermann Oberth's book Die Rakete zu den Planeträumen ("Rockets to planetary space") in 1925. Appalled that he could not understand its complicated mathematical formulas, he determined to master his two weakest subjects. Upon completion of secondary school, von Braun

entered the Berlin-Charlottenburg Institute of Technology, where he earned a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering and aircraft construction in 1932.

In the spring of 1930, von Braun found time to work as part of the German Society for Space Travel, a group founded in part by Hermann Oberth which experimented with small, liquid-fueled rockets. Although Oberth returned to a teaching position in his native Romania, von Braun continued working with the society. When the group ran short of funds during the Depression, von Braun, then twenty, reluctantly accepted the sponsorship of the German military. In 1932 he went to work for the German army's ordnance department at Kummersdorf near Berlin, continuing to develop liquid-fueled rockets. Entering the University of Berlin about this same time, he used his work at Kummersdorf as the basis for his doctoral dissertation and received his Ph.D. in physics in 1934.

Von Braun's staff at Kummersdorf eventually grew to some eighty people, and in early 1937, the group moved to Peenemünde, a town on the Baltic coast where the German army together with the air force had constructed new facilities. Before the move, engineers at Kummersdorf had begun developing ever-larger rockets, and in 1936 they completed the preliminary design for the A4, better known as the V2. This was an exceptionally ambitious undertaking, since the missile was to be 45 feet long, deliver a 1-ton warhead to a target some 160 miles distant, and employ a rocket motor that could deliver a 25-ton thrust for 60 seconds, compared to the 1.5 tons of thrust supplied by the largest liquid-fueled rocket motors then available. Von Braun's team encountered numerous difficultiesperfecting the injection system for the propellants, mastering the aerodynamic properties of the missile, and especially in developing its guidance and control system. Thus, even with the assistance of private industry and universities, the first successful launch of the A4 did not occur at Peenemünde until October 3, 1942. Despite this success, failed launches continued to plague the project, and as a result the first fully operational V2s were not fired until September 1944. Between then and the end of the war, approximately 6,000 rockets were manufactured at an underground production site named Mittelwerk, using the slave labor of concentration camp inmates and prisoners of war. Although several thousand V2s struck London, Antwerp, and other allied targets, they were not strategically significant in the German war effort. Their importance lies in the technological advances they brought to the development of rocketry.

As the war drew to a close in Europe in the early months of 1945, von Braun organized the move of hundreds of people from Peenemünde to Bavaria so they could surrender to the Americans rather than the Soviets. Subsequently, about 120 of them went to Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas, as part of a military operation called Project Paperclip. They worked on rocket development and employed captured V2s for high altitude research at the nearby White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico. In the midst of these efforts, von Braun returned to Germany to marry, returning with his wife to Texas after the wedding. In 1950, the von Braun team transferred to the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama, where between April 1950 and February 1956, it developed the Redstone medium-range ballistic missile under his technical direction. Deployed in 1958, the Redstone was basically an offshoot of the V2 but featured several modifications including an improved inertial guidance system. The Redstone also served as a launch vehicle, placing Alan B. Shephard and Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom in suborbital flight in May and July 1961, respectively. Meanwhile, in February 1956, von Braun became the director of the development operations division of the newly established Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) in Huntsville. While located there, he and his wife raised three children. Von Braun himself became a U.S. citizen on April 14, 1955.

Undoubtedly the greatest claim to fame of von Braun and his team was the powerful Saturn family of rockets, which propelled Americans into lunar orbit and landed 12 of them on the moon between July 1969 and January 1971. Development of these launch vehicles began under ABMA and was completed during the decade after July 1, 1960, when von Braun and over 4,000 ABMA personnel transferred to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), forming the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, which von Braun directed until February 1970. The Saturn I and Ib were developmental rockets leading to the massive Saturn V that actually launched the astronauts of the Apollo program. Propelled by liquid oxygen and kerosene in its first stage, liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen for the two upper stages, the Saturn V stood 363 feet high, six stories above the level of the Statue of Liberty. Its first stage constituted the largest aluminum cylinder ever produced; its valves were as large as barrels, its fuel pumps larger than refrigerators.

As von Braun repeatedly insisted, he and his team were not alone responsible for the success of the Saturn and Apollo programs. In fact, the engineers at Marshall often urged more conservative solutions to problems occurring in both programs than NASA ultimately adopted. To von Braun's credit, he invariably accepted and supported the more radical approaches once he was convinced they were right. One example involved the debate over all-up versus step-by-step testing of Saturn V. Having experienced numerous rocket system failures going back to the V2 and beyond, the German engineers favored testing each stage of the complicated rocket. At NASA headquarters, however, administrator George Mueller preferred the Air Force approach, which relied much more heavily on ground testing. He therefore insisted upon testing Saturn V all at once in order to meet President John F. Kennedy's ambitious goal of landing an American on the moon before the end of the decade. Ever cautious, von Braun hesitated but finally concurred in the ultimately successful procedure.

Beyond his role as an engineer, scientist, and project manager, von Braun was also an important advocate for space flight, publishing numerous books and magazine articles, serving as a consultant for television programs and films as well as testifying before Congress. Perhaps most important in this regard were his contributions, with others, to a series of Collier's articles from 1952 to 1953 and to a Walt Disney television series produced by Ward Kimball from 1955 to 1957. Both series were enormously influential and, along with the fears aroused by the Soviet space program, galvanized American efforts to conquer space.

See also History of manned space exploration; Spacecraft, manned

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Von Braun, Wernher

Wernher von Braun

Born: March 23, 1912
Wirsitz, Germany
Died: June 16, 1977
Alexandria, Virginia

German-born American scientist

The German-born American space scientist Wernher von Braun, the "father of space travel," developed the first practical space rockets and launch vehicles. His advancements were instrumental in space exploration and in putting the first men on the moon.

An inspired student

Born on March 23, 1912, in Wirsitz, Germany, Wernher von Braun's father, Baron Magnus von Braun, was a founder of the German Savings Bank, a member of the Weimar Republic Cabinet, and minister of agriculture. His mother, the former Emmy von Quistorp, a musician and amateur astronomer (one who studies the universe), was a strong influence on her son, especially after she gave her son a telescope as a present. Wernher spent his childhood in several German cities, as the family moved wherever Magnus was transferred.

At the French Gymnasium, Wernher excelled in languages but failed physics and mathematics. He then attended the Hermann Lietz School at Ettersburg Castle, where he developed an intense interest in astronomy and overcame his failures in other subjects. Fascination with the theories of space flight then prompted him to study mathematics and physics with renewed interest. Before he graduated, he was teaching mathematics and tutoring other students.

Von Braun enrolled in the Charlottenburg Institute of Technology in Berlin. He became an active member of the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR; Society for Space Travel) and an associate of Hermann Oberth (18941989), Willy Ley (19061969), and other leading German rocket enthusiasts. In 1930 Oberth and von Braun developed a small rocket engine, which was a technical success.

German army rocket program

Adolf Hitler (18891945) rose to power and became chancellor (leader) of Germany on January 30, 1933. Still upset about the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I (191418), the German army looked to rebuild its forces. The treaty severely restricted Germany's production of weapons, such as guns and cannons. But the treaty made no mention of rockets, and German military planners hoped to develop rockets as weapons. They immediately turned to von Braun.

When World War II (193945) began, Germany gave rocket development highest priority. While von Braun developed a large rocket named the V-2, the Nazis (Hitler's army) wanted it as a weapon of war. Von Braun had a different vision: space travel.

By 1943 von Braun's rocket complex was the primary target of the Allied forces (America, France, and Great Britain). When Germany was near collapse, von Braun evacuated his staff to an area where the Americans might capture them. He reasoned that the United States was the nation most likely to use his resources for space exploration. The rocket team, which consisted of more than five thousand coworkers and their families, surrendered to U.S. forces on May 2, 1945.

Early U.S. rocket experiments

During questioning by Allied officers, von Braun prepared a report on rocket development and applications in which he predicted trips to the moon, orbiting satellites, and space stations. Recognizing the potential of von Braun's work, the U.S. Army authorized the transfer of von Braun, 112 of his engineers and scientists, 100 V-2 rockets, and the rocket technical data to the United States.

In 1946 the team moved to what is now the White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico. In 1950 they relocated to the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, where von Braun remained for the next twenty years. He used his free time to write about space travel and to correspond with his family and his cousin, Maria von Quistorp. In early 1947 he obtained permission to return to Germany to marry Maria. They had three children. On April 15, 1955, von Braun and forty of his associates became naturalized citizens.

The Russian space program outpaced that of the United States in the 1950s. When the Russians successfully put Sputnik I into space and the U.S. Navy's Vanguard program failed, the United States turned to von Braun's group. Within ninety days, on January 31, 1958, the team launched the free world's first satellite, Explorer Ion, into orbit.

U.S. space program

After the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), von Braun was appointed director of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center at Huntsville, Alabama, on July 1, 1960. The space agency sought his advice about techniques later used in landing on the moon. Just before Christmas, 1968, a Saturn V launch vehicle, developed under von Braun's direction, launched Apollo 8, the world's first spacecraft to travel to the moon. In March 1970 NASA transferred von Braun to its headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he became deputy associate administrator.

Von Braun resigned from NASA in July 1972 to become vice president for engineering and development with Fairchild Industries of Germantown, Maryland. Besides his work for that aerospace firm, he continued his efforts to promote human space flight, helping to found the National Space Institute in 1975 and serving as its first president. On June 16, 1977, he died of cancer at a hospital in Alexandria, Virginia.

For More Information

Bergaust, Erik. Wernher von Braun: The Authoritative and Definitive Biographical Profile of the Father of Modern Space Flight. Washington, DC: National Space Institute, 1976.

Lampton, Christopher. Wernher von Braun. New York: Watts, 1988.

Piszkiewicz, Dennis. Wernher von Braun: The Man Who Sold the Moon. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998.

Stuhlinger, Ernst, and Frederick I. Ordway III. Wernher von Braun, Crusader for Space: An Illustrated Memoir. Malabar, FL: Krieger, 1994.

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von Braun, Wernher

von Braun, Wernher

German-American Rocket Expert 1912-1977

Born in Wirsitz, Germany, on March 23, 1912, Wernher von Braun progressed from a student who failed mathematics and physics while spending too much time building his car to the world's foremost rocket engineer.

Inspired by Hermann Oberth's Rocket into Planetary Space (1923) and a telescope from his mother, von Braun decided to become a space pioneer by designing rockets and realized that he would need mathematics to succeed. He joined a German rocket society whose work had drawn the attention of the German army. In 1932 von Braun went to work for the ordnance department, designing ballistic missiles. During that period he earned a doctorate in physics, at the age of twenty-two, from the University of Berlin.

By 1941 von Braun had designed the A-4, followed by the V-2, which was used in World War II. When he learned that his rockets were being used to kill so many people, he said it was the darkest hour of his life. At one time he was jailed for spending time exploring spaceflight, taking time away from his military rocket building. He was released after two weeks because Germany needed his leadership for its missile program. In 1945 von Braun and 500 people on his team at Peenemunde surrendered to the Americans, bringing plans and test vehicles with them. He and 116 members of the team were brought to the United States to work on the American rocket program.

At White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico and later at Huntsville, Alabama, von Braun's team developed the Redstone Rocket, which was twice the size of the V-2, and the Jupiter-C, which was modified into the Juno 1 and used to launch the American answer to Sputnik, the Explorer 1 spacecraft. The Redstone rocket later was used to launch Alan Shepard, the first American in space, on his suborbital flight. When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established in 1958, von Braun became the director of the Huntsville installation, now named the Marshall Space Flight Center.

When the Soviet Union shocked the world with the launch of Yuri Gagarin three weeks before Shepard's flight, President John F. Kennedy consulted with von Braun to find a goal to which the United States could beat the Soviet Union. Von Braun told him that he thought the United States could land a man on the Moon and return him to Earth by 1967 or 1968. Once President Kennedy issued his challenge to get to the Moon "within the decade," von Braun was named to develop the Saturn rocket to achieve that purpose. The Saturn V rocket has the distinction of having launched all the American Moon missions as well as the Skylab space station without a single failure.

Von Braun retired from his post as deputy associate administrator at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., in 1972. In 1975 he founded and became president of the National Space Institute, which was intended to promote better understanding of space exploration among the public. Shortly before von Braun died on June 15, 1977, he was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Gerald Ford.

see also Careers in Rocketry (volume 1); History of Humans in Space (volume 3); Kennedy, John F. (volume 3); Korolev, Sergei (volume 3); Rocket Engines (volume 1); Rockets (volume 3); Tsiolkovsky, Konstantin (volume 3).

Meridel Ellis

Bibliography

Englebert, Phyllis, ed. Astronomy and Space, Vol. 3. New York: UXL,1997.

Swanson, Glen, ed. "Before the Decade Is Out": Personal Reflections on the Apollo Program. Washington, DC: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1999.

Internet Resources

Wernher Von Braun: Mastery of Space is Man's Greatest Adventure. Marshall Space Flight Center. <http://www.history.msfc.nasa.gov/vonbraun/mastery.html>.

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von Braun, Wernher

Wernher von Braun (vôn broun), 1912–77, German-American rocket scientist and astronautics engineer, b. Germany, grad. Berlin Technological Institute (B.S., 1932), Univ. of Berlin (Ph.D., 1934). Devoted to the pursuit of rocketry and spaceflight since his teenage years, von Braun assisted Hermann Oberth after 1930 in early experiments in building and firing small liquid fuel rockets. His doctoral studies were funded by the German army, which confiscated and classified his 1934 dissertation. A member of the Nazi party and the SS, von Braun was (1937–45) technical director of the German rocket research center at Peenemünde and was a research professor there from 1943. He was responsible for the successful development of the German V-2 rocket, thousands of which were launched against London and Antwerp during World War II's final year, and he also developed other rocket weapons. At the close of World War II, von Braun, who had buried his records and fled toward the American lines, was brought (1945) to the United States, and soon became a prime figure in the cold war arms race and later in the space program.

From 1945 to 1950 von Braun was technical adviser at the White Sands Proving Grounds and also project director at Fort Bliss, Tex. He went to Huntsville, Ala., in 1950, first as chief of the guided missile development division, Redstone Arsenal (1950–56), and then as director of the development operations division of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (now the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center). There he developed rockets for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's lunar program, most notably the Saturn rockets used for the Apollo missions. In 1970 he became NASA's deputy associate administrator. Von Braun continued to be an ardent advocate of rocket development and space flight, acting as America's best-known spokesman for space exploration. He became a U.S. citizen in 1955. His writings include Across the Space Frontier (1952), The Exploration of Mars (with Willy Ley, 1956), and First Men to the Moon (1960).

See memoir by E. Stuhlinger and F. I. Ordway, 3d (1994); biographies by H. M. David (1967), E. Bergaust (1976), R. Spangenburg and D. K. Moser (1995), D. Piszkiewicz (1998), B. Ward (2005), and M. J. Neufeld (2007); W. Biddle, Dark Side of the Moon (2009).

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Braun, Wernher von

Braun, Wernher von (1912–77) US rocket engineer, b. Germany. He perfected the V-2 rocket missiles in the early 1940s. In 1945 he went to the USA, becoming a US citizen in 1955. In 1958, von Braun was largely responsible for launching the first US satellite Explorer 1. He later worked on the development of the Saturn rocket (for the Apollo program), and was deputy associate administrator (1970–72) of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

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Von Braun, Wernher

Von Braun, Wernher (1912–77) US aeronautical engineer, b. Germany. In World War 2, he was responsible for building the v-2 rocket. In 1945, Von Braun went to the USA, where he developed the Jupiter rocket that took the first US satellite, Explorer 1, into space in 1958. In 1960, he joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and developed the Saturn rocket that took astronauts to the Moon. See also space exploration

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Von Braun, Wernher

VON BRAUN, Wernher

(b. 23 March 1912 in Wirsitz, Germany; d. 16 June 1977 in Alexandria, Virginia), astro-physicist and engineer, "the father of space travel," who played a vital role in rocket design and space exploration and who developed the launch system used in the Apollo space program.

Von Braun was the second of three sons born to Baron Magnus Alexander Maximilian von Braun, a magistrate and minister of nutrition and agriculture in the Weimer Republic, and Emmy von Quistorp, a homemaker. Von Braun's mother was a well-educated woman who fostered her son's interests in outer space by introducing him to the "science fiction" writers Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.

Von Braun graduated from the Berlin-Charlottenburg Institute of Technology in 1932 with a B.S. in mechanical engineering and aircraft construction. While in school he became involved in the German Society for Space Travel, organized by Hermann Oberth, a group that experimented with launching small liquid-fuel rockets. After funding ran out, von Braun accepted an offer from the German army to join their ordnance department. The military was interested in rockets because they were unregulated by the Treaty of Versailles, the 1919 peace agreement that ended World War I. Von Braun used the information he gained to write his doctoral dissertation in physics, which he completed at the University of Berlin in 1934.

The Nazi regime financed rocket development, and von Braun was a part of their program. Although some V-1 and V-2 rockets were launched, they were too late and ineffective to be of strategic value to the German war effort. Rather, the value was in the rocket technology, for the work of von Braun and his team was more advanced than that of any other country. As it became obvious that Germany was losing the war, von Braun and his group decided to be captured by the Americans rather than the Russians. Therefore, they moved to a Bavarian resort and surrendered to the Americans on 2 May 1945. About 120 of the scientists went to the United States to continue their research in a rocket project called Operation Paperclip. Von Braun returned to Germany to marry his cousin Maria Louise von Quistorp on 1 March 1947; they had three children.

Originally, von Braun and other scientists tested, assembled, and supervised the launching of captured V-2 rockets in White Sands, New Mexico. In 1952 von Braun moved to the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama, as technical director of the U.S. Army's ballistic weapons program. On 15 April 1955 von Braun and forty of his associates became U.S. citizens. During the 1950s he actively promoted space flight, including the launching of an earth satellite, on television, and in books and magazines. After the Soviet Union launched Sputnik and the U.S. Navy's Vanguard rocket exploded in 1957, the von Braun group launched the first U.S. satellite, Explorer I, on 31 January 1958. The federal government began funding space exploration to increase national pride, as well as to gain scientific knowledge, and Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson gave the space program their complete support. Von Braun and his team became part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

As the space race continued, von Braun assumed a pivotal role. By late 1961 he was director of the Marshall Space Flight Center and controlled 40 percent of NASA's budget. He became responsible for supplying NASA with booster rockets. Von Braun and his team at Huntsville conceived the Saturn I using the latest advances in technology. By 1962 NASA could estimate the size of the booster needed for a manned space mission. To determine its exact requirements, a decision had to be made from three operational concepts—direct ascent with no intermediate stages; earth orbit rendezvous which combines payloads from craft in earth orbit; and lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR), in which a single rocket launches separable spacecraft. After the spacecraft is in orbit, the lunar module detaches and lands on the moon. Although von Braun did not originally favor LOR, he later supported it as a way to win the cooperation of the Houston Manned Space Center and continue to be part of the space race.

Von Braun was forced to accept a different approach to rocket testing. In 1963 George Mueller, the new head of the office of Manned Space Flight, calculated that at the rate the program was progressing, it would be impossible to land a man on the moon before 1970. He recommended using "all up" testing instead of step-by-step testing, which meant testing all the components of the Saturn V together. This approach was heresy to the German engineers, who had been testing components individually since the 1930s and had witnessed numerous rocket failures. The Apollo missions, using the Saturn IB rocket (Apollo 7) and the Saturn V rocket (Apollo 8, 10, and 11), were key engineering successes that acted as a precursor to the manned moon landing.

Von Braun was lauded as a national hero. He received numerous awards, such as the Robert H. Goddard Memorial Trophy (1958), the Distinguished Federal Civilian Service Award (1959), and the National Medal of Science (1977). After the successful moon landing, there were no new space projects on the horizon. Von Braun moved on to NASA administration in Washington, D.C., in 1970. As funding ended for new projects, he left for private industry in 1972, working for Fairchild Industries in Maryland on satellite development and deployment.

Von Braun enjoyed being in the limelight. After Sputnik landed, he was a common sight on Capitol Hill testifying before Congress, mesmerizing them with his knowledge and charm. From 1958, when the Explorer I was launched, until 1966, he received nineteen honorary doctorate degrees and joined eighteen professional organizations. He wrote several hundred articles, although few were technical or scientific pieces. He produced monthly articles for Popular Science for ten years and coauthored History of Rocketry and Space Travel in 1966 with Frederick I. Ordway.

Von Braun has been accused of knowing that slave laborers and workers from the Dora concentration camp produced the V-2s, and that the Nazis abused the workers. Throughout his life, von Braun continued to deny any knowledge of the conditions in the concentration camps. Many critics feel, however, that he knew the conditions of the camps but chose to ignore them to continue producing rockets at the Nordhausen facility—his blinding passion. His failures appear to be indirect—not protesting about the camp conditions rather than inflicting them. Von Braun died of cancer and is buried at Ivy Hill Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia.

The Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress has many of von Braun's papers from the period of 1950 to 1970, and the NASA History Division in Washington, D.C., has other papers, along with von Braun's writings, speeches, interviews, and newspaper clippings. Biographies of von Braun include Helen B. Walters, Wernher von Braun: Rocket Engineer (1964); John C. Good-rum, Wernher von Braun: Space Pioneer (1969); Erik Bergaust, Wernher von Braun (1976); Christopher Lampton, Wernher von Braun (1988); Ernst Stulinger and Frederick I. Ordway, Wernher von Braun: Crusader for Space (1994); Diane K. Moser and Ray Spangenburg, Wernher von Braun: Space Visionary and Rocket Engineer (1995); and Dennis Piszkiewicz, Wernher von Braun: The Man Who Sold the Moon (1998). Biographical information is also in Walter Dornberger, V-2 (1954); Frederick I. Ordway and Mitchell R. Sharpe, The Rocket Team (1979); and Frank H. Winter, Rockets into Space (1990). Obituaries are in the Washington Star (17 June 1977), New York Times and Washington Post (both 18 June 1977); and Time and Newsweek (both 27 June 1977).

Sheila Beck

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Von Braun, Wernher

Wernher von Braun

Born March 23, 1912 (Wirsitz, Germany)

Died June 16, 1977 (Alexandria, Virginia)

German-born American rocket engineer

Wernher von Braun was the most famous rocket engineer of the twentieth century. He began his career in Germany, where he developed the revolutionary V-2 rocket during World War II (1939–45). Fleeing to the United States at the end of the war, he became an important figure in the American rocket and space programs. Teams of engineers under his direction designed the Redstone, Jupiter, and Pershing missiles (rockets that carry weapons). Von Braun then led development of the Jupiter C, Juno, and Saturn launch vehicles, which carried early U.S. satellites (objects that orbit in space) and spacecraft beyond Earth's atmosphere and ultimately to the Moon. Von Braun was both a celebrity and a national hero in the United States.

"To millions of Americans, [Wernher von Braun's] name was inextricably linked to our exploration of space and to the creative application of technology."

President Jimmy Carter

Begins developing rockets

Wernher Magnus Maximilian von Braun was born on March 23, 1912, in the town of Wirsitz (later Wyrzysk, Poland) in eastern Germany. He was the second of three sons of Baron Magnus Alexander Maximilian von Braun, a banker and government official, and Emmy (von Quistorp) von Braun, an


accomplished musician and talented amateur astronomer (one who studies stars and planets). She encouraged her son's fascination with spaceflight by giving him a telescope and books by science-fiction writers Jules Verne (1828–1905) and H. G. Wells (1866–1946; see entry). Wernher attended the French Gymnasium (high school), where he excelled in languages but failed physics (the science that deals with matter and energy and their interactions) and mathematics. He then attended the Hermann Lietz School at Ettersburg Castle, a school famous for its advanced teaching methods and emphasis on practical trades. At age thirteen he attempted to read Rocketsto Planetary Space by the space pioneer Hermann Oberth (1894–1989; see entry), but he could not understand Oberth's complicated mathematical formulas. He then vowed to master math and physics. Before he graduated, he was teaching mathematics and tutoring struggling students.

In 1930 von Braun enrolled at the Charlottenburg Institute of Technology in Berlin. He also joined the German Rocket Society, which was founded in part by Oberth. Von Braun soon became Oberth's student assistant, and together they successfully developed a small rocket engine. Funding for the project ended, however, and Oberth returned to his native Romania. Von Braun and his associates continued their work at an abandoned field outside Berlin, using the old buildings for laboratories and living quarters. For a time von Braun attended the Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. There he began the study of the physiological effects of space flight, conducting crude experiments with mice in a centrifuge (a machine used for simulating gravitational force). The experiments convinced him that humans could withstand the rapid acceleration and deceleration of space flight. He then returned to Charlottenburg Institute and to his work at the field where he launched his rockets.

Develops V-2 rocket

While von Braun and his associates were developing their rocket, Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) had manipulated his way to power as head of the Nazi Party. Elected chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, Hitler took over the parliament (legislative body) and suspended the constitution. He began ruling by decree (an order that has the force of law) and rebuilding the German army, which had been virtually dismantled by the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I (1914–18). The treaty had forbidden Germany to have any gun, cannon, or weapon with a bore (barrel) exceeding three inches. But the Nazis saw a loophole. The treaty did not envision rockets and made no mention of them, so German military planners hoped to develop rockets as weapons. German army ordnance (weapons) experts began frequent visits to von Braun's rocket field and monitored his team's rocket development work. Impressed with von Braun's knowledge and the scope of his imagination, ordnance officials invited him to continue his research at the army's facilities at Kummersdorf.

On October 1, 1932, von Braun officially joined the German Army Ordnance Office rocket program. Two years later he received a doctorate in physics from the University of Berlin. By that time he was technical director at Kummersdorf with a staff of eighty scientists and technicians. They had completed the preliminary design for the A-4 rocket, which became known as the V-2. This was an ambitious undertaking, since the missile was to be 45 feet (13.7 meters) long, deliver a one-ton (.97 metric ton) warhead (the section of a missile containing the explosive or chemical) to a target nearly 160 miles (257.4 kilometers) away. The rocket motor was also far more powerful than the largest liquid-fueled rocket motors then available. It could deliver a 25-ton (22.6 metric ton) thrust (upward force) for 60 seconds, compared to the 1.5 tons (1.36 metric tons) of thrust supplied by other rockets. The following year the group moved to new military facilities at Peenemünde, a town on the Baltic coast.

When Hitler started World War II by invading Poland in 1939, Germany gave rocket development the highest priority. Hitler envisioned using this new weapon in his quest to take over Europe. Von Braun's team encountered difficulties in perfecting their rocket, however, so the first launch did not occur at Peenemünde until October 3, 1942. Failures continued to plague the project, and fully operational V-2s were not fired until September 1944. By the end of the war in June 1945, approximately six thousand rockets were manufactured at an underground production site named Mittelwerk. The factory used the slave labor of concentration camp inmates and prisoners of war. (Concentration camps were compounds where the Nazis imprisoned and executed millions of people, including Jews and other "enemies of the state.") Although several thousand V-2s struck London, England; Antwerp, Belgium; and other Allied targets, they were not strategically significant in the German war effort. (The Allies were military forces led by Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union.)

Heads U.S. rocket program

The Nazis wanted the rocket as a weapon of war, but von Braun had a different vision: space travel. His interest in space exploration rather than military application led to his arrest and imprisonment by the German secret police in 1944. The Nazis released him only after they realized that jailing their leading rocket scientist was an unwise political move. The program lurched backward without von Braun's leadership, disrupting Hitler's timetable for the war. When Germany was near collapse, von Braun led his associates and their families from Peenemünde to the Bavarian coast so they could surrender to the Americans. He reasoned that the United States was the nation most likely to use its resources for space exploration. The rocket team surrendered to U.S. forces on May 2, 1945, just before the Russians advanced into the abandoned rocket development center.

Von Braun's Nazi Connections

Wernher Von Braun's prominence in American spaceflight efforts often overshadows his responsibility in the suffering and loss of life associated with the German V-2 rocket. Although he always gave credit to his team for the technical success of this and other programs, he clearly played a key role in the development of the missile. He and his army superior, General Walter Dornberger (1895–1980), were also successful in obtaining funding and other support for the V-2. Although he had no direct responsibility for production at Mittelwerk, von Braun was aware of conditions in the concentration camp that provided the factory's labor. Moreover, he had joined the Nazi Party on May 1, 1937, and became an officer in the elite SS (an abbreviation of Schutzstaffel, German for "Protective Corps") in 1940. (The SS started as Hitler's bodyguards, but under Heinrich Himmler [1900–1945] it came to control military police activities, Nazi intelligence, and the administration and maintenance of the death camps.)

While historians note that more research is needed on this subject, available American records support von Braun's claim that he was forced to join both organizations to avoid abandoning his rocketry work. He further stated that his motivation in building army missiles was their ultimate use in space travel and scientific endeavors. He said he was arrested by the Nazis in 1944 because he was not interested in using the V-2 as a weapon.

During interrogation by Allied intelligence officers, von Braun prepared a report in which he forecast trips to the Moon, orbiting satellites, and space stations. Recognizing the scope of von Braun's work, the U.S. Army authorized the


transfer of von Braun, 112 of his engineers and scientists, 100 V-2 rockets, and rocket technical data to the United States. They went to Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas, as part of a military operation called Project Paperclip. (Project Paperclip was a program in which the United States military employed and protected numerous Nazi scientists and intelligence agents.) In 1946 they worked on rocket development and used captured V-2s for high-altitude research at the nearby White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico.

Promotes spaceflight

In his free time von Braun wrote about space travel and corresponded with his family and his cousin, Maria von Quistorp. In early 1947 he obtained permission to return to Germany to marry Maria. The couple returned to Texas after the wedding; they later had three children. Von Braun continued work on V-2 launchings, conducting some of the earliest experiments in recording atmospheric conditions, photographing Earth from high altitudes, perfecting guidance systems, and conducting medical experiments with animals in space. He also completed his book, The Mars Project, an account of planetary exploration, but he was unable to interest a publisher until much later. In 1950 the von Braun team transferred to the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama, where between April 1950 and February 1956 it developed the Redstone rocket. On April 15, 1955, von Braun and forty of his associates became naturalized U.S. citizens.

The Redstone eventually played a significant role in America's early space program. During the 1950s, however, the Russian space program moved ahead of U.S. efforts. This development caused considerable alarm in the United States. Immediately after World War II, the United States and the former Soviet Union became engaged in the Cold War (1945–91), a period of political hostility that resulted in an arms race to achieve military superiority and a space race to be the first to send humans into space. Von Braun repeatedly warned American officials of Soviet advances in the space race, but his requests for permission to orbit a satellite (a man-made object that orbits in space) were denied.

Satellite delayed by politics

When the Soviet Union successfully orbited the Sputnik 1 satellite in 1957, the U.S. government finally authorized von Braun's group to work on a satellite. Within ninety days the team developed the Explorer 1 satellite from a modified Redstone rocket (the Jupiter C), with the cooperation of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology. The Explorer 1 was launched into orbit on January 31, 1958.

Nearly four decades later, newly released government documents revealed information that had been kept secret: The administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969; served 1953-61), the U.S. president at the time of the Sputnik 1 launch, had deliberately delayed production of an American satellite. This political strategy, unknown to von Braun, was a gamble to gain an edge over the Soviets in the use of spy satellites. In 1995 Christian Science Monitor reporter Robert C. Cowen published an article about the documents after they were declassified, or made public. According to Cowen, "when Sputnik 1 caught most Americans napping on Oct. 4, 1957, it also helped fulfill one of the Eisenhower administration's secret strategic goals. It helped legalize the future use of spy satellites." Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971), Cowen wrote, "basked in a propaganda coup…[but he] also implicitly acknowledged a new limit to nation sovereignty. It ends short of the lowest orbit in which an earth satellite can travel. And that meant that the Soviet Union had nothing to complain about when the United States later orbited unarmed reconnaissance [spy] satellites."

Heads space center

In 1958 the United States created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Two years later von Braun was appointed director of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, a NASA agency at Huntsville. On October 27, 1961, NASA launched the first Saturn 1 vehicle. It was 162 feet (49.37 meters) long, weighed 460 tons (417 metric tons) at liftoff, and rose to a height of 85 miles (136.76 kilometers). On November 9, 1967, the newer Saturn 5 made its debut, and it was more than twice as long as the Saturn 1. Just before Christmas in 1968, a Saturn 5 launch vehicle, developed under von Braun's direction, launched Apollo 8, the world's first spacecraft to travel to the Moon (see Buzz Aldrin [1930–] and Neil Armstrong [1930–] entries). In 1970 NASA transferred von Braun to its headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he became deputy associate administrator.

Von Braun resigned from NASA in 1972 to become vice president for engineering and development with Fairchild Industries of Germantown, Maryland. Besides his work for that aerospace firm, he promoted human space flight, helping to found the National Space Institute in 1975 and serving as its first president. An enthusiastic advocate for spaceflight, von Braun published numerous books and magazine articles, served as a consultant for television programs and films, and testified before the U.S. Congress about the possibilities of space flight. Perhaps most important in this regard were his contributions, with others, to a series of Collier's magazine articles (1952–53) and to a Walt Disney television series (1955–57). The articles and the series were enormously influential and, along with the fears aroused by the Soviet space program, energized American efforts to conquer space.

Von Braun received numerous awards, including the first Robert H. Goddard Memorial Trophy in 1958. The award was named for American physicist Robert Goddard (1882–1945; see entry), who was conducting rocket experiments around the time von Braun began working on the A-4. Goddard was highly secretive and rarely shared his research, but some historians suggest that the Germans may have managed to learn about his work. Von Braun also received the Distinguished Federal Civilian Service Award (presented by President Dwight D. Eisenhower) in 1959 and the National Medal of Science in 1977. In addition to his role as a space pioneer, von Braun pursued a wide range of interests. An accomplished musician, he played the piano and cello. He was also an ardent outdoorsman who enjoyed scuba diving, fishing, hunting, sailing, and flying. Von Braun died of cancer at a hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, on June 16, 1977.

For More Information

Books

Hunt, Linda. Secret Agenda: The United States Government, Nazi Scientists, and Project Paperclip, 1945 to 1990. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.

Ward, Bob. Mr. Space: The Life of Wernher von Braun. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Press, 2004.

Periodicals

Cowan, Robert C. "Declassified Papers Show U.S. Won Space Race After All." Christian Science Monitor (October 23, 1999): p. 15.

"Previously Unpublished von Braun Drawings." Ad Astra (July/August 2000): pp. 46–47.

Von Braun, Wernher. "Man on the Moon—The Journey." Collier's (October 18, 1952): pp. 52–60.

Von Braun, Wernher, with Cornelius Ryan. "Baby Space Station." Collier's (June 27, 1953): pp. 33–40.

Von Braun, Wernher, with Cornelius Ryan. "Can We Get to Mars?" Collier's (April 30, 1954): pp. 22–28.

Web Sites

Graham, John F. "A Biography of Wernher von Braun." Marshall Space Flight Center, NASA.http://liftoff.msfc.nasa.gov/academy/history/VonBraun/VonBraun.html (accessed on June 29, 2004).

"Wernher von Braun." http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAbraun.htm (accessed on June 29, 2004).

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