He was a brilliant visionary from his youth and had always dreamed of developing rockets to explore outer space. At the age of 13, von Braun’s interest in rocketry almost got him labeled as a juvenile delinquent. One day, von Braun obtained six skyrockets and strapped them to a red, toy wagon. After setting the skyrockets off, the wagon roared five blocks into the center of his home town and exploded. The toy wagon was a charred wreck. Although he was strongly reprimanded by his father, von Braun’s interests could not be discouraged. Von Braun’s father
could not understand why his son would be so interested in such a dangerous hobby.
When he was 19, von Braun joined the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR). At the age of 20, von Braun received his bachelor’s degree from the Berlin Institute of Technology and two years later he received his doctorate in physics at the University of Berlin. Just two years after receiveng his doctorate, in 1936, von Braun was directing Germany’s military rocket development program. Von Braun was forced to build weapons for the Third Reich, against his will. When the first V-2 hit London he remarked to some of his colleagues ,"The rocket worked perfectly except for landing on the wrong planet." In May 1945, near Oberjoch the VfR (the rocket team that designed the V-2) surrendered to the Americans. At the time von Braun had a broken arm. In March he got into a car accident while driving from Leuchtenberg to Berlin when the driver fell asleep at the wheel and the car went off the road, down an embankment and onto a railroad track. The first attempt to set his arm was a failure and a month later they rebroke and set his arm in Sothofen, 14 km. from Haus Ingerug at Oberjoch (the place they surrendered). They came to Fort Bliss, Texas in 1945 and then went to White Sands, New Mexico in 1946 where he would stay until 1950. Many people were suspicious and found it hard to believe that the scientists had transferred their loyalties from the Nazis to the USA as quickly as it seemed to be. The population gradually gained respect for the German scientists, much to the credit of von Braun, the charismatic leader who worked tirelessly to create goodwill within the community.
During this time, von Braun mailed a marriage proposal to beautiful, blond, 18 year old Maria von Quirstorp. On March 1, 1947, he married her in a local Lutheran church. On December 9, 1948, his daughter, Iris was born at Fort Bliss Army hospital. In April 1950, von Braun moved to Huntsville, Alabama which was to remain his home for the
next 20 years. There von Braun and his colleagues became known as the Huntsville gang. In 1952, von Braun’s second daughter, Margrit, was born. After many hard years of work, Juno 1 (a satellite) was launched on January 31, 1958. Von Braun said this about his accomplishment, "It was one of the great moments of my life. I only regret we didn’t do it earlier." He became an instant hero.
Von Braun was a social charmer who hated to get up early and got his best ideas at midnight. This tall, blond genius not only had an unquenchable enthusiasm for spaceflight but also played the cello and piano. His favorite foods were spaghetti, steak, fish and Chinese food. The only problem is that he usually counted his calories after he ate, not before. After the Apollo space program, von Braun’s vision was different than NASA’s and he retired in June 1972. He became the vice-present of Fairchild Industries in Germantown, Maryland. During his Fairchild years, von Braun was active in establishing and promoting the National Space Institute. At the peak of his activities, von Braun learned he had cancer. Despite surgery, the cancer progressed, forcing him to retire on December 31, 1976.
Early in 1977, von Braun received the National Medal of Science by President Gerald Ford. Von Braun was completely surprised and appreciative. On June 16, 1977, Wernher von Braun died in Alexandria, Virginia, leaving behind his wife, 3 children and 2 brothers.
Wernher von Braun was a visionary from his youth who dreamed of developing rockets to explore space flight. Even at a young age he was experimenting with the materials he could get ahold of.
On July 5, 1927, the nucleus of the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR) was started. Von Braun joined on September 1929. At the age of 20, von Braun received his bachelor’s degree at the Berlin Institute of Technology and merely 2 years later he had his received doctorate in Physics from the University of Berlin. Before graduating, von Braun won a research grant from the German Ordnance Department for his work in rocketry. By 1936, von Braun was the director of Germany’s military rocket development program.
The Verein für Raumschiffahrt was reorganized in 1937 at Peenemünde on the Baltic Coast, a small, isolated penisula on the Peene river. By 1943, Peenemünde had become a small city with housing (many people worked there including engineers, technicians, specialists, scientists and support personnel) and manufacturing facilities. Peenemünde was bombed on August 17, 1943, in a night raid by the British Bomber Command. The raid did relatively little damage except to the housing and administrative areas. In October of the same year, Magnus von Braun (Wernher von Braun’s younger brother) became Wernher von Braun’s personal assistant. During the Peenemünde years, the VfR designed, built and tested many rockets including the V-1 and the A4 (which was later renamed Vengeance weapon #2 or the V-2 for short). The third A4 rocket was the launch that is said to be the beginning of the space age. This took place on October 3, 1942. The A4 was the first successful long range ballistic missile, which von Braun is credited as the main designer. The A4 is said to be the ancestor of almost every rocket flown in the world today. When Germany was crumbling and the Americans and their Allies were coming from the west and the Russians were coming from the from the east, von Braun called a secret meeting with his top men at Peenemünde in a farmhouse near the launch site. When he asked the men who they wanted to surrender to, the answer was unanimous, America.
The Armament Ministry of Berlin ordered the rocket team to destroy all classified imformation for fear it would be captured. Von Braun disobeyed, hiding them in an abandoned mine in the Harz Mountains, where he could get them later. Hitler had also ordered the whole team to be executed to prevent their capture. In the confusion of the collapse of Germany, Magnus von Braun was able to ride a bike from Haus Ingerug, Oberjoch to where the 44th Infantry Division of the United States was stationed. That day, May 2, 1945, the rocket team surrendered to the United States. Once in they got arrived at Fort Bliss, Texas, the Americans hardly knew what to do with them. Lonely and discouraged, they were left to tinker with captured A-4’s and teach rocketry to those in the army who were interested. In 1946, the team was moved to White Sands, New Mexico. By February 1946, the whole team had been reunited. They moved again in 1950 to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, where von Braun would stay for the next 20 years. President Harry Truman ordered troops to Korea and at the same time, von Braun and his team
were building weapons of war. The rocket team built the USA’s first ballistic missile called the Redstone (it was named the arsenal). In August 1953, the first Redstone rocket was tested at Cape Canaveral, Florida. By 1956, the Redstone went higher than 600 miles and reached a speed of 16,000 miles an hour. On January 31, 1958, a modified Redstone (the Jupiter C), put the 1st American satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), on July 1st 1960, had von Braun’s Army team form the nucleus of the Marshall Space Center (also in Huntsville). At Marshall, von Braun continued the development of larger rockets started by the Army, the Saturn I, the largest rocket at the time, the Saturn IB, the rocket that launched the Apollo spacecraft and the Saturn V, the rocket that put man on the moon. Von Braun retired from NASA on June 10, 1972, because his vision was different than NASA’s. After, he became the vice-president for engineering and development of Fairchild Industries in Germantown, Maryland. Von Braun received the National Medal of Science by President Gerald Ford in early 1977.Wernher von Braun was a visionary in his time he influenced the world with his work and without
him, the Americans would have never made it to the moon in the short time they did.
The new Grolier Mulimedia Encylopedia
A brief history of rocketry
The Rocket Team Fredrick Orway & Mitchell Sharpe Thomas Y. Crowell, 1979
Moon Shot Alan Shepard & Deke Slayton et. al. Tuner Publishing, 1994
The First Small Step edited by Al Hall Peterson Publishing Co., 1974
Neues Großes Personnen Lexicon Weltbild Verlag GmbH, 1990