Articles/Biographies/Scientists/von Braun, Wernher

Wernher was born in Germany shortly after the 1st world war to a well-known family. The Von Brauns had prevented Mongol invasion of Prussia in 1245 and gained massive fame for their efforts. His family's wealth allowed him to attend excellent private schools in Germany and educate himself in advanced subjects such as physics.

Wernher had a great interest in science since his teenage years, particularly in the field of rocketry (a fairly new area of research at the time). In those years, Robert Goddard was conducting his first experiments of launching rockets to heights of 30 meters. Wernher's favorite book at the time was Hermann Obereth's De Rakete zu den Planetraumen, a book that gave descriptions of a rocket capable of a moon landing.

Wernher attended college at Berlin Technical University and received his Bachelor's degree in science in 1932. In the 1930s, Wernher visited Colonel Becker (the head of the Ballistics and Ammunition Department of the Reichswier) and presented him with technical information from his experiments with the Raketenflugplatz Group. Wernher was surprised that Becker liked his ideas although he disliked the group leader, Rudolph Nebel, and his tendency to use rockets for showmanship.

Becker gave Von Braun funding for research and contracted him for work as a civilian at a secret army research station. Nebel disliked the idea of secret work so Von Braun was forced to research independently. The plans for Von Braun were to publicly work with Walter Dorenberger on a liquid-fueled rocket for his college thesis, while researching wartime rockets in secrecy. Von Braun had no concern for where his research would lead since he badly needed funding.

In 1933 when Hitler took power, many intellectuals left Germany, but Von Braun chose to stay. He joined several National Socialist organizations and continued to be educated by the army. In 1934 he received his Ph.D. and started work on creating a working wartime missile that would later become known as the V-2 rocket. The rocket would have a 172-mile range and carry a full ton of explosives in its 45-foot length. His only reason for continuing work for the Nazi Party was that without it, he would have had to abandon his life's work.

In 1945, Wernher came to the United States to work for the US Army's Ordnance Corps. He initially worked on further development of the V-2 rocket for use by the allies, but later became project director of a weapons research laboratory at Fort Bliss, Texas. In 1950, his group was transferred to Huntsville, Alabama to create the Army Ballistic Missile Agency.

The ABMA developed many important projects, including the Redstone rocket, IRBM, and Pershing missile. The rockets were used to launch the Explorer 1 satellite into orbit, which was the first such achievement by the United States. On July 1, 1960, his team formed the core research team at the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, a division of NASA. The goal of the division's goal was to design rockets capable of launching people and payloads into space and Von Braun served as the director of the facility for the next decade.

After leading the development of the Saturn V rocket, he was appointed Deputy Associate Administrator of NASA, but he left in 1972 to become the Vice President of Engineering and Development at Fairchild Industries. He retired in 1977 for health reasons and died on June 16, 1977.