Wernher von Braun, America Space Program
Marshall Center Director Dr. Wernher Von Braun is pictured with Walt Disney during a visit to the Marshall Space Flight Center in 1954. In the 1950s, Dr. Von Braun while working in California on the Saturn project, also worked with Disney studios as a technical director in making three films about Space Exploration for television. Disney's tour of Marshall in 1965 was Von Braun's hope for a renewed public interest in the future of the Space Program at NASA.
The V-2 (German: Vergeltungswaffe 2, "Retribution Weapon 2"), Aggregat 4 (A4), was the world's first long-range guided ballistic missile. It was developed during the Second World War in Nazi Germany as a "vengeance weapon", assigned to attack Allied cities as retaliation for the Allied bombings against German cities. The V-2 rocket also became the first artificial object to cross the boundary of space with the vertical launch of MW 18014 on 20 June 1944. Research into the military use of long-range rockets began when the studies of graduate student Wernher von Braun attracted the attention of the German Army. A series of prototypes culminated in the A-4, which went to war as the V-2. Beginning in September 1944, over 3,000 V-2s were launched by the German Wehrmacht against Allied targets during the war, first London and later Antwerp and Liège. The attacks from V2s resulted in the deaths of an estimated 9,000 civilians and military personnel. As Germany collapsed, teams from the Allied forces—the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union—raced to capture key German manufacturing sites and technology. Wernher von Braun and over 100 key V-2 personnel escaped advancing Soviets and surrendered to the Americans. Von Braun role in American space program is hard to overestimate. The Soviets too gained possession of the V-2 manufacturing facilities, re-established V-2 production, and lay foundation forthe Soviet space program.
Von Braun's gravestone mentions Psalm 19:1: "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Apollo program director Sam Phillips was quoted as saying that he did not think that the United States 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 the United States would have reached the Moon at all. Wernher von Braun was born on March 23, 1912 in the small town of Wirsitz, in the Posen Province, of the former German Empire. He was the second of three sons. He belonged to a noble family, inheriting the German title of Freiherr (equivalent to Baron). His father, a civil servant Magnus Freiherr von Braun (1878–1972), served as a Minister of Agriculture during the Weimar Republic. His mother, Emmy von Quistorp (1886–1959), could trace her ancestry through both parents to medieval European royalty and was a descendant of Philip III of France, Valdemar I of Denmark, Robert III of Scotland, and Edward III of England. In 1930, he attended the Technische Hochschule Berlin, where he joined the Spaceflight Society. In 1933, von Braun was working on his creative doctorate when the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP, or Nazi Party) came to power in a coalition government in Germany; rocketry almost immediately moved onto the national agenda. During Hitler years he became a member of both Nazi party and SS but was briefly arrested in 1944. The Soviet Army was about 160 km (99 mi) from Peenemünde in the spring of 1945. Unwilling to go to the Soviets, von Braun and his staff decided to try to surrender to the Americans. Von Braun fabricated documents and transported 500 of his affiliates to the area around Mittelwerk, where they resumed their work. For fear of their works being destroyed by the SS, von Braun ordered the blueprints to be hidden in an abandoned mine shaft in the Harz mountain range. In April 1945, as the Allied forces advanced deeper into Germany, the engineering team was moved by train into the town of Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps where they were closely guarded by the SS with orders to execute the team if they were about to fall into enemy hands. However, von Braun managed to convince his SS supervisor, Major Kummer, to order the dispersion of the group into nearby villages so that they would not be an easy target for U.S. bombers. Von Braun and a large number of the engineering team subsequently made it to Austria. On May 2, 1945, upon finding an American private from the U.S. 44th Infantry Division, 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.