Wernher von Braun, Part 1

Wernher von Braun, Part 1

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Wernher von Braun, Part 1

Rocket Man

Part One

By Frank White

(c) Copyright, Frank White, 1995, All Rights Reserved

This message is the seventeenth in a series of Space Frontier Foundation essays designed to inform the Internet public about the incredible possibilities awaiting us in space and the second in Frank White’s series on the Visionaries Of The Open Frontier.

What are we to make of Werner von Braun, the prototypical “rocket scientist” whose determination and genius were embodied in both the V-2 rockets that brought death and destruction to Britain during World War II, and the Saturn V that took the first humans to the moon some twenty-five years later?

Like much of the early space programs in both the US and the USSR, we find that an effort that could contribute to peace is also inextricably intertwined with suffering and war.

Perhaps we must simply leave it at that, and note that if von Braun and his colleagues had been captured by the Red Army instead of American soldiers in the waning days of WWII, history would have been quite different. Indeed, the present era would not have the same shape and substance because the Soviets would have been far more likely to have won the space race with von Braun in their camp.

In the late 1950’s, von Braun and his team were working with the US Army at Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama. In 1957, the US was shocked into action by the successful launching of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite. The initial efforts by the US to catch up, embodied in the Vanguard program, failed. It was only when the job was turned over to the von Braun team that the first American satellite made it into orbit.

Von Braun and his people continued to play a major role in the US manned space program, through Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. They were key to developing the Saturn V rocket that powered the lunar missions, a feat that we would be hard-pressed to match even today. In terms of the physical achievements of space exploration, then, we have to give credit to von Braun for taking humanity to the moon. However, his work also had a philosophical impact, which we will consider in Part Two of this essay.

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