Ley, Willy

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Ley, Willy

Scientist, Engineer, and Science Writer 1909-1969

Willy Ley was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1909. Educated as a paleontologist, Ley chose a career in rocketry and became a tireless advocate of the concept of rocket travel. He founded the German Society for Space Travel in 1927 and attempted to establish that organization as the world's most important society for spaceflight. Among the members he recruited was Wernher von Braun, who later moved to the United States and designed the Saturn series of rockets that carried astronauts to the Moon and space stations into Earth orbit.

Ley emigrated to the United States in 1934 when the German government chose to use rockets as military weapons, a decision he opposed. In the United States he became a popular writer on scientific subjects, including spaceflight, rocketry, and astronomy. He advised filmmakers, including Fritz Lang and Walt Disney, and helped Disney design a theme park attraction about travel to the planets and a documentary television series. Ley worked with Collier's magazine in its special 1947 series about space travel, written by von Braun. The magazine articles and books that followed were a major force in popularizing the idea of spaceflight in the period after World War II. Ley wrote more than nineteen books, including The Conquest of Space (1959),Rockets and Space Travel (1948),Kant's Cosmogeny (1968), and Rockets, Missiles, and Space Travel (1961-1969). He died in 1969, a few weeks before the launch of Apollo 11 and the first landing of astronauts on the Moon.

see also Rockets (volume 3); von Braun, Wernher (volume 3).

Frank Sietzen, Jr.


Ley, Willy. The Conquest of Space. New York: Viking Press: 1959.

. Rockets and Space Travel. New York: Viking Press, 1948.