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Wernher von Braun (engl)

Wernher Magnus Maximilian von Braun (, – , ) was one of the leading figures in the development of technology in and the . The German , who led Germany's rocket development program () before and during , entered the United States at the end of the war through the then-secret . He became a naturalized and worked on the American program before joining , where he served as director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the chief architect of the launch vehicle, the superbooster that propelled the United States to the Moon. He is generally regarded as the of the . Wernher von Braun received the in . He was tall, articulate and spoke English with a distinctive German accent. He was buried at the in .
Early life
Wernher von Braun was born in , in the German Kingdom of . He was born second of three sons with an impressive pedigree. His father, the conservative politician (1877-1972), served as a Minister of Agriculture in the Federal Cabinet during the . His mother, Emmy von Quistorp (3.11.1886-1959) through both her parents could trace ancestry to medieval European , including King , and King through his father, and King through his mother, through the son of Nikolaus von Tecklenburg by Catharina Waterfoer, by whom he descended by seven lines of King and his wife . He also had a younger brother, also named , born in 1919. Upon Wernher von Braun's , his mother gave him a telescope, and he discovered a passion for astronomy and the realm of . When, as a result of the , Wirsitz became part of in 1920, his family, like many other German families, moved. They settled in , where at first von Braun did not do well in and until he acquired a copy of the book (The Rocket into Interplanetary Space) by rocket pioneer . From then on, he applied himself at school in order to understand physics and mathematics. During this period, the 12-year-old von Braun, inspired by speed records established by and , caused a major disruption by firing off a toy wagon to which he had attached a number of . The youngster was taken into custody by the local police until his father came to collect him.
In 1930, von Braun attended the , where he joined the (VfR, the "Spaceflight Society") and assisted in liquid-fueled rocket motor tests. After receiving his degree, he commenced postgraduate studies at the , earning a in physics () on , .
The idea of space travel had always fascinated von Braun, and even as a boy he had experimented with a rocket-propelled wagon down a crowded street in Berlin, Germany, earning himself a stern lecture from police. Von Braun continued to pursue his interest in rocketry, however, and at the age of twenty was appointed chief of the German army's rocket corps. Although he worked mainly with military rockets for many years, space travel remained his primary goal.
German career
The Prussian rocketeer
Von Braun was working on his doctorate when an artillery captain, , arranged an Ordnance Department research grant for him, and von Braun then worked next to Dornberger's existing solid-fuel rocket test site at . He received his doctorate two years later and by the end of 1934, his group had successfully launched two rockets that rose to heights of 2.2 and 3.5 .
At the time, was highly interested in American physicist 's research. Before , German scientists occasionally contacted Goddard directly with technical questions. After that, things got rather tense. Wernher von Braun used Goddard's plans from various journals and incorporated them into the building of the Aggregat 4 (A-4) series of rockets - better known as the V-2. In , 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 when, after the war ended, Goddard inspected captured German V-2s, and recognized many components which he had invented.
There were no German rocket societies after the collapse of the VfR, and civilian rocket tests were forbidden by the new . Only military development was allowed and to this end, a larger facility was erected at the village of in northern Germany on the . 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 Peenemьnde, with von Braun as technical director. In collaboration with the , the Peenemьnde group developed liquid-fuel rocket engines for aircraft and . They also developed the long-range A-4 and the .
In November 1937 (other sources: December 1 1932), von Braun joined the . An document dated April 23 1947 states that von Braun joined the Waffen-SS () horseback riding school in 1933, then the National Socialist Party on May 1 1937 and became an officer in the from May 1940 to 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 Peenemьnde ... 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- (SS Colonel) Mьller ... looked me up in my office at Peenemьnde and told me that 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 Peenemьnde 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. Braun claimed to have worn the SS uniform only once . He began as an (Second Lieutenant) and was promoted three times by Himmler, the last time in June 1943 to SS- ( Major).
A4 production in the 1945. This photo from Soviet made movie after war.
On , , signed the order approving the production of the A-4 as a "vengeance weapon" and the group developed it to target . Following von Braun's , 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.) The first combat A-4, renamed the ("Vergeltungswaffe 2", "Retaliation/Vengeance Weapon 2") for propaganda purposes, was launched toward on , , 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'.
SS General , who as an had constructed several including , had a reputation for brutality and had originated the idea of using concentration camp prisoners as laborers in the rocket program. , chief engineer of the V-2 rocket factory at Peenemьnde, 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 on many occasions, and called conditions at the plant "repulsive", but claimed never to have witnessed firsthand any deaths or beatings, although it became clear to him that deaths had occurred by 1944 . He denied ever visiting the concentration camp itself.
Adam Cabala reported:
[...] the German scientists led by Prof. Wernher von Braun also saw everything that went on every day. When they walked along the corridors, they saw the prisoners' drudgery, their exhausting work and their ordeal. During his frequent attendance in Dora, Prof. Wernher von Braun never once protested against this cruelty and brutality.
and
On a little area beside the clinic shack you could see piles of prisoners every day who had not survived the workload and had been tortured to death by the vindictive guards. [...] But Prof. Wernher von Braun just walked past them, so close that he almost touched the bodies. (Ref 6)
On , , von Braun wrote a letter (Ref 7) to Albin Sawatzki, manager of the V-2 production, admitting that he personally picked labor slaves from the concentration camp, who, he admitted 25 years later in an interview, had been in a "pitiful shape".
In Wernher von Braun: Crusader for Space numerous quotes from von Braun show he was aware of the conditions, but felt completely unable to change them. From a visit to Mittelwerk, von Braun is quoted by a friend:
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)
Arrest by the Nazi regime
According to , a French historian and survivor of the concentration camp, Himmler had von Braun come to his HQ in sometime in February 1944. To increase his power-base within the Nazi rйgime, Heinrich Himmler was conspiring to use Kammler to wrest control of all German armament programs, including the V-2 program at Peenemьnde. 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 surveillance since October 1943 and a report stated that he and his colleagues and 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 (a "defeatist" attitude). A young female dentist later denounced them for their comments and, combined with Himmler's false charges that von Braun was a sympathizer and had attempted to sabotage the V-2 program, this led to his arrest. Kammler, highly dedicated to Himmler, was also instrumental in von Braun's arrest by the .
The unsuspecting von Braun was arrested on (or ) and was taken to a Gestapo cell in (now Szczecin, Poland), where he was imprisoned for two weeks without even knowing the charges against him. It was only through the in Berlin that Dornberger was able to obtain von Braun's conditional release and , Reichsminister for Munitions and War Production, convinced Hitler to reinstate von Braun so that the V-2 program could continue. Citing from the "Fьhrerprotokoll" (the minutes of Hitler's meetings) dated , 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 indispensible for you, in spite of the difficult general consequences this will have." Nevertheless, from this point onward fear ruled in Peenemьnde.
Surrender to the Americans
Von Braun (with armcast) immediately after his surrender
The was about 160 km from 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. Forging a set of orders on SS stationery, von Braun authorized a convoy to move 5,000 personnel south through war-torn Germany toward the American lines. The had meanwhile been ordered to kill the German engineers and destroy their records. The engineers, however, had hidden these in a mineshaft close to their hiding place in the alps near the and continued to evade their own troops. During that time von Braun got involved in a traffic accident when his driver fell asleep, and he sustained a complicated fracture of his left arm. On , , upon finding an American private from the U.S. , 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."
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 , , two days before the scheduled turnover 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 , and was evacuated 40 miles Southwest to , a small town in the , the next day. von Braun was subsequently recruited to the US under .
American career
U.S. Army career
On , , approved the transfer of von Braun and his specialists to America. Since the paperwork of those Germans selected for transfer to the United States was indicated by paperclips, von Braun and his colleagues became part of the mission known as , an operation that resulted in the employment of many German scientists who were formerly considered war criminals or security threats (like von Braun) by the U.S. Army.
The first seven technicians arrived in the United States at , just south of , on , . They were then flown to and taken by boat to the Service post at in Boston Harbor. Later, with the exception of von Braun, the men were transferred to in to sort out the Peenemьnde documents. These would enable the scientists to continue their rocketry experiments.
Finally, von Braun and his remaining Peenemьnde staff were transferred to their new home at , a large Army installation just north of . While there, they trained military, industrial and university personnel in the intricacies of rockets and guided missiles. As part of the they helped to refurbish, assemble and launch a number of V-2s that had been shipped from Germany to the in . 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 , his cousin on his mother's side. On , , having received permission to go back to Germany and return with his bride, he married her in a Lutheran church in , Germany. He and his bride and his father and mother returned to New York on 26 March 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 Cйcile on 8 May 1952 and Peter Constantine on 2 June 1960. In 1955, von Braun became a of the United States.
In 1950, at the start of the , von Braun and his team were transferred to , his home for the next twenty years. Between 1950 and 1956, von Braun led the Army's rocket development team at , resulting in the , which was used for the first live tests conducted by the United States.
As Director of the Development Operations Division of the (ABMA), von Braun's team then developed the , a modified Redstone rocket. The Jupiter-C successfully launched the West's first satellite, , on , . 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 Union, and his team of German scientists and engineers plowed ahead with several new rocket designs and the 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 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 . However, instead of risking being sacked he now was increasingly in a position to popularize these ideas. In , he first published his concept of a manned in a magazine series of articles entitled These articles were illustrated by the space artist and were influential in spreading his ideas. Frequently von Braun worked with fellow German-born space advocate and science writer to publish his concepts which, unsurprisingly, were heavy on the engineering side and anticipated many technical aspects of space flight that later became reality.
and Wernher von Braun, shown in this 1954 photo, collaborated on a series of three educational films.
The space-station (to be constructed using rockets with recoverable and reusable ascent stages) would be a structure, with a diameter of 250 feet (76 m), would spin around a central docking nave to provide , and would be assembled in a 1,075 miles (1,730 km) two-hour, high-inclination allowing observation of essentially every point on earth on at least a daily basis. (More than a decade later, the movie version of would heavily draw 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 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 in the 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 and the foothills.
At this time von Braun also worked out preliminary concepts for a manned mission that would use two spacecraft and an aerodynamic lander.
In the hope that its involvement would bring about greater public interest in the future of the space program, von Braun also began working with the as a , initially for three television films about space exploration. The initial broadcast devoted to space exploration was which first went on air on , .
NASA career
Director Wernher von Braun shows around the in 1963.
It was not until 1957 and the launch of that America realized how far it lagged behind the Soviet Union in the emerging . After the 's attempt at building a rocket to lift satellites into orbit resulted in the very unreliable , American authorities recognized they needed von Braun and his German team's experience, so they were quickly transferred to NASA.
Wernher von Braun, with the engines of the first stage at the .
NASA was established by law on , . One day later, the 50th Redstone rocket was successfully launched from in the south Pacific as part of . Two years later, NASA opened the new in and transferred von Braun and his development team there from the ABMA at Redstone Arsenal. Presiding from July 1960 to February 1970, von Braun became the center's first Director.
The Marshall Center's first major program was the development of to carry heavy into and beyond . Wernher von Braun's dream to help set foot on the became a reality on , when a Marshall-developed rocket launched the crew of on its historic eight-day mission. Over the course of the , Saturn V rockets enabled six teams of astronauts to reach the surface of the Moon. At the time of the first moon-landing, von Braun publicly expressed his optimism that the Saturn rocket would continue to be developed, advocating manned missions to in the 1980s based on the .
Still with his rocket models, von Braun is pictured in his new office at NASA headquarters in 1970.
During the late 1960s, von Braun played an instrumental role in the development of the in Huntsville. The desk from which he guided America's entry in the Space Race remains on display there.
In an von Braun confirmed to his staff that he would stay on as a Center Director at Huntsville to head the . However, on , , von Braun and his family relocated to , 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, von Braun retired from NASA on , , as it became evident that his and NASA's visions for future U.S. space flight projects were different.
Career after NASA
After leaving NASA, von Braun became a vice-president of in on , . He helped establish and promote the , a precursor of the present-day .
In a routine health check uncovered a which during the following years could not be controlled by surgery. Von Braun continued his work to the degree 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 College, a small liberal arts college in Meadville, Pennsylvania, von Braun revealed a more personal, down-to-earth side of himself as a man in his early 60's, 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.
In , von Braun became scientific consultant to , the of , and a member of the . However, his deteriorating condition forced him to retire from Fairchild on , . When the was awarded to him in early he was hospitalized, and unable to attend the White House ceremony. On , , Wernher von Braun died in at the age of 65. He is buried there in the Ivy Hill Cemetery.
Honors
in
Posthumous recognition
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 on the moon was so named by the in recognition of von Braun's contribution to space exploration and technology.
The (built 1975) is named in von Braun's honor.
Cultural references
On film and television
Wernher von Braun has been featured in a number of movies and television shows or series about the :
(1960), also titled Wernher von Braun and Ich greife nach den Sternen ("I reach for the stars"): von Braun played by ). Satirist suggested the subtitle "(But Sometimes I Hit London)".
(1990) Doc in 1955 says when the Browns first came to Hill Valley they were known as the "Von Brauns."
(1964): Dr Strangelove is usually held to be based at least partly on von Braun.
(1977): Director and star 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.
(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.
(1983): The Chief Scientist, played by , was clearly modeled on von Braun.
(TV, 1998): von Braun played by .
(1999): In this film about American rocket scientist , who as a teenager admired von Braun, the scientist is played by .
(TV, co-production with (Germany), Channel One TV (Russia) and TV (USA), 2005): von Braun played by .
(1965, directed by ): plays Professor Von Braun (also known as Leonard Nosferatu), the inventor of the "Alpha 60" super-computer which rules Alphaville.
"Race to Space" (2001) James Woods portrays a character that the film's director states was "clearly modeled" after von Braun, working on the Mercury program sending the first chimp "Ham" (renamed Mac) into space.
(2003): The von Braun is the ship built to make the first manned voyage to the Jovian system. Additionally, the character Wernher Locksmith, the director of the mission, is possibly based on von Braun.
(TV, 2005): A spacecraft, named , is named after him.
In print media
In an issue of Mad Magazine in the late 1950s, artist 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 ' graphic novel , Von Braun is a supporting character, settling in Britain after WWII, and being essential for the realization of the British Space Program.
In novels
by Joseph Kanon. Von Braun and other scientists are said to have been implicated in the use of slave labour at Peenemьnde; their transfer to the US forms part of the narrative.
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 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 notes Von Braun as one of the things an old dictionary doesn't mention.
by has a scene in which a character reads a Life magazine with Von Braun on the cover.
In music
Wernher von Braun (1965): A song written and performed by for an episode of 's American version of the BBC TV show ; the song was later included in Lehrer's album . 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."
The Last Days of Pompeii (1991): A rock opera by 's post- alternative rock group , 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 for their CD . The song begins: "In 1942 there was Wernher von Braun..."
In computer games
In the 1999 game , the main starship is named the .
In the 2004 game , the character of portrays many parallels to von Braun, including his CIA-aided defection to the United States, and famed contributions to rocket science.
Notes
Note regarding personal names: is a title, translated as , not a first or middle name. The female forms are and .
Young, Anthony. . The Space Review.

Eric W. Weisstein, at .
Speer, Albert (1969). Erinnerungen (p. 377). Verlag Ullstein GmbH, Frankfurt a.M. and Berlin,
Regarding V-2 slave labor, see, for example,
McDougall, Walter A. ...The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age. Basic Books: New York, 1985. (p 44)
McGovern, J (1964). Crossbow and Overcast. New York: W. Morrow, p182.
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
See also


References
Dunar, Andrew J & Stephen P Waring (1999), Power to Explore: a History of Marshall Space Flight Center, 1960–1990, Washington, DC: , Available electronically at
Eisfeld, Rainer (2000), Mondsьchtig, Hamburg: Rohwolt,
Erlebnisbericht Adam Cabala, in: Fiedermann, HeЯ, Jaeger: Das KZ Mittelbau Dora. Ein historischer Abriss. Berlin 1993, S.100
Lasby, Clarence G (1971), Project Paperclip: German Scientists and the Cold War, New York, NY: Atheneum, ISBN B0006CKBHY
Neufeld, Michael J (1994), The Rocket and the Reich: Peenemьnde and the Coming of the Ballistic Missile Era, New York: Free Press,
Sellier, Andrй (2003), A History of the Dora Camp: The Untold Story of the Nazi Slave Labor Camp That Secretly Manufactured V-2 Rockets, Chicago, IL: Ivan R Dee,
Stuhlinger, Ernst (1996), Wernher von Braun: Crusader for Space, Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company,
Ward, Bob (2005), Dr. Space: The Life of Wernher von Braun, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press,
Eric W. Weisstein, at .
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