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Wernher Von Braun

Wernher Von Braun Photo

Wernher von Braun was born on 23rd March 1912 in Wirsitz, Germany. He was born into an aristocratic family to a Prussian baron. As a young man, von Braun was a devoted reader of science fiction by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. But once he read the works of Hermann Oberth, also known as the father of German rocketry, on Braun developed a keen interest in physics and mathematics, subjects he had previously found quite challenging in school.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the Berlin Institute of Technology. During his student years, he also joined the German Society for Space Travel, and later on, worked with Oberth on testing liquid-fueled rockets. In 1934, von Braun got his doctorate in physics from the University of Berlin. By this time, von Braun and his teammates had successfully launched two rockets which reached heights of over 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers). But since in those days, the German government was averse to civilians testing rocket, the only way to continue his work was by joining the military.

In the 1930s, von Braun took up his job as the technical director at the rocket research station at Peenemunde, in northeastern Germany. Von Braun studied the rocket design of Robert Goddard, the American father of rocketry and developed the V-2 rocket for Germany.

The V-2 rockets were first used in September 1944, when more than 5,000 were dropped over Britain. Fortunately only 1,100 were dropped on target still killing more than 3000 people and injuring thousands. The V-2 rocket’s speed could reach more than 3,500 mph, the 46-foot, 27,000-pound V-2 rocket was capable of carrying warheads up to 500 miles.

However, in 1944, the German government arrested von Braun on charges of sabotaging and delaying their weapons program. It was after he convinced them that the delay was due to him developing and refining the capabilities of V-2 even further that he was finally released.  At the end of WWII, von Braun, his brother and his team all surrendered to the American Army.

After surrendering to the U.S. Army, von Braun joined the American Army in its development of ballistic missiles and in 1952; he eventually became the technical director of the Army’s Ballistic Missile Agency in Alabama. It was here that von Braun contributed in developing the Redstone, Juno, Jupiter-C, and Pershing rockets. In fact, it was the Redstone rocket that eventually launched Alan Sheppard and Gus Grissom into space for the first American suborbital flights.

By 1947, von Braun had become an American citizen and he returned to Germany to bring back his wife, Maria Luise von Quistorp, and his parents to America.

In 1957 Russia launched the satellite Sputnik, making it the first man-made object to enter space. A year later in 1948, von Braun and his team launched the first American satellite, Explorer 1, into space.

In 1960, von Braun resigned from the Army and took the position of Director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.  The newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) gave von Braun the opportunity to develop Saturn I, IB, and V. It was the Saturn V rocket that helped launch all of the Apollo lunar missions into space.

From 1970 to 1972, Von Braun served as NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Planning. Throughout his career in the United States, Braun’s contributions were acknowledged and awarded from numerous U.S. government agencies and professional societies within the United States and abroad.

Wernher Von Braun died on June 16, 1977, at the age of 65.

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