He’s viewed as one of the most controversial “mad” scientists of the 20th century - after Wernher von Braun almost helped win World War II for Adolf Hitler with his V-1 rocket technology - and then serving as President Kennedy's top NASA scientist for Apollo missions.
This year is a huge one for fans of “the rocket man” Wernher von Braun, who will mark the 100th anniversary of his birth on March 23, 1912 in both Berlin and at NASA Headquarters later this year; while 2012 also marks other significant anniversaries for this German-born American rocket scientist and “space architect” who served both Adolf Hitler and American presidents with his unique ability to develop rocket technology.
In turn, this rocket technology today allows those nations with nuclear weapon war-heads on the tips of rockets to threaten man’s existence on Earth. For instance, it was 60 years ago, in the winter of 1952, that von Braun first published his concept of a manned space station in a Collier’s Weekly magazine series entitled “Man Will Conquer Space Soon!” These magazine articles – by the man who once used Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camp prisoners as “slave laborers” in his V-1 and V-2 rocket program for Hitler – published some 20 years ago, also included many technical aspects of space flight that later became reality.
Wernher von Braun: advisor to Hitler and Kennedy
In fact, after von Braun immigrated to the U.S. at the end of World War II, he started writing in different popular science magazines with his vision for manned space programs. Thus, it’s for good reason von Braun has been called the Einstein of rocket and space technology after writing in 1952 – some 60 years ago – that man will venture into space with “spinning space stations, lunar landings and culminating in a massive expedition to Mars.”
As von Braun would put it, in an update to the old saying: “Late to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise." It worked. This former top Nazi scientist – who wore the Nazi uniform as a major, while delivering to Hitler the V-1 and V-2 rocket technology that terrorized and killed hundreds of thousands and almost helped turn the end of World War II in Hitler’s favor – would soon be hanging out with the space-minded President John F. Kennedy, and then running the famous Apollo man on the moon program.
At the same time, U.S. history books seem to have a difficult time in trying to explain this unique scientist with photos of von Braun in a Nazi SS uniform talking to his boss Adolf Hitler about his V-1 rocket technology, and juxtaposing photos form the early Sixties with von Braun walking with President Kennedy when he was crowed as “America’s Rocket Man,” some 50 years ago in 1962.
Earth’s first “Rocket Man”
More than a decade after von Braun published his views about space travel in Collier’s and other space magazines in 1952, the movie version of 2001: A Space Odyssey would draw heavily on von Braun’s design concept in its visualization for an orbital space station.
In turn, von Braun’s vision for a 2001 Space Odyssey type space station that we have today in 2012 was one that he planned back in the winter of 1952 – some 60 years ago – when he wrote a series of articles for the popular magazine Collier’s.
For those Collier’s reports, von Braun stressed the importance of “establishing a ‘node’ in low Earth orbit,” and so first introduced the modern version of a space station and many other technical aspects of space flight that later became a reality. For instance, von Braun wrote in 1952 that the space station would be constructed using rockets with recoverable and reusable ascent stages, with a “toroid structure,” writes von Braun in Collier’s Magazine from March 1952.
Rockets in search of alien life
At the same time, von Braun wrote in 1952 – some 60 years ago – that the space station that he was dreaming of and planning would be “an assembly point for expeditions to the Moon and Mars, a crucial logistical concept. This self-proclaimed “rocket man” also wrote that it’s much more economically sound to launch his now U.S. rockets – after surrendering as a top Nazi scientists after World War II – from Earth orbit than “from a deep potential well,” while he viewed an orbiting station as having an obvious advantage as “a fuel depot and viewpoint.”
Also, von Braun wanted a NASA space program with the same very large-scale as the one he helped built for Hitler and Nazi Germany; with von Braun’s original vision for world domination now in check with his new job of running NASA’s Apollo program. For instance, NASA history of the von Braun years notes that he wanted a “total of 50 astronauts traveling in three huge spacecraft – with two space ships for crews and the other primarily for cargo), with each rocket ship about 160 feet long and 108 feet in diameter and driven by a rectangular array of 30 rocket propulsion engines.”
In turn, von Braun – who once said “UFOs or alien life has to exist” – that upon arrival at the Moon or Mars, the astronauts would set-up a “permanent lunar base” in the “Sinus Roris region” by using the space ships emptied cargo holds as “shelters,” and would explore their surroundings for upwards of eight weeks. This Apollo chief would then have these 50 astronauts explore in “pressurized rovers” to the Moon’s crater Harpalus and then search the Mare Imbrium foothills for signs of “alien life.”
Nazi connection haunted von Braun
Thus, von Braun’s dream to help mankind set foot on the Moon became a reality on July 16, 1969, when he and former Nazi “Peenemunde” V-1 assistant Kurt H. Debus – who went on to become the first director of the Kennedy Space Center – helped develop the Saturn V rockets (designed in part after their V-1 Nazi rockets) that enabled six teams of astronauts to reach the surface of the Moon and, in turn, look for signs of “alien life,” that von Braun had called for.
As for why did NASA and the U.S. government hire these former top Nazi scientists; historians agree that America would have made a deal with the devil to get a hold of the rocket technology that von Braun and Debus had worked on for Hitler.
It was also during this time in the late Sixties, that von Braun was called “instrumental,” by NASA history, in the development of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Today, visitors to the Huntsville – dubbed “Rocket City” – can view the Jupiter-C rocket and even von Braun’s desk from which he guided America's entry in the Space Race that remains on display at the U.S. space and Rocket Center, Cummings Research Park and the Redstone Arsenal that all, say historians, have that look, feel and legacy of von Braun and infamous Nazi “Peenemunde” V-1 space center that von Braun had once promised Hitler would help win World War II.
In turn, von Braun and his staff – that included former Nazi rocket scientists like himself – would stay on and run the then new Huntsville center as the director and heal of NASA’s Apollo Applications Program.
However, on March 1, 1970, von Braun and his family relocated to Washington, D.C., when he was given another top space job of being NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Planning at NASA Headquarters. But, after a series of “conflicts associated with the truncation of the von Braun’s favorite Apollo program, this former top Nazi rocket scientist retired from NASA – some 40 years ago – on May 26, 1972.
Nazis catered to von Braun’s rocket dreams
At the same time, NASA’s history points to the growing release back 40 years ago, in 1972, by Nazi hunter who expressed concerns about von Braun’s work with SS General Hans Kammler, who as a top Nazi engineer had not only constructed several concentration camps – including the infamous Auchwitz – but also von Braun’s V-2 rocket factory at Peenemunde, Germany.
Although SS Major Wernher von Braun denied ever having visited Auschwitz, Mittlelbau-Dora and other Nazi concentration camps that served his rocket building programs – with millions of Jews who died from illness, beatings, hangings and being gassed to death – his career as one of America’s top NASA rocket scientists ended with more of a whimper than glory after the Nazi “slave labor” research became public 40 years ago, in 1972.
What’s known about von Braun’s career today in 2012, is that he was just as friendly and joking, it seems, with Hitler and President Kennedy when they were his boss. Still, photos of von Braun standing with a big smile on his face next to Himmler and others; while von Braun is dressed in an SS officer’s uniform with the ranks of Untersturmfuhrer (second lieutenant) and then being promoted “three times by Himmler,” with the last Nazi promotion in June 1943 to SS Sturmbannfuher, a Wehrmacht Major, doesn’t sit well with those who view the Nazi’s as evil.
Hitler had von Braun first
Also, this year marks the 70th anniversary of the now infamous photo of von Braun sitting with Adolf Hitler signing the order, on Dec. 22, 1942, to approve von Braun’s production of the A-4, or “vengeance weapon” that von Braun and other Nazi scientists developed to target the people of London, killing hundreds of thousands of civilian, including women and children.
Moreover, the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., features an historic film showing von Braun’s July 7, 1943, presentation, in a rare color film, showing one of von Braun’s A-4 rockets taking off for London, with Hitler pictured as “so enthusiastic that her personally made von Braun a top Nazi professor shortly thereafter.” In Germany at this time, state Air and Space Museum history in an exhibit about von Braun, “this was an exceptional promotion for a young engineer like von Braun who was only 31 when he perfected rockets that could carry warheads to hit allied targets for Nazi Germany.
Meanwhile, history books state that von Braun – America’s first “Rocket Man” – was a preeminent member of the Nazi party when working to perfect the rocket technology to win World War II for Nazi Germany.
Wernher von Braun died of cancer at the age of 65 on June 16, 1977, in Alexandria, Virginia. He is buried in a small non-descript grave at the Ivy Hill Cemetery in Alexandria near where many former Holocaust survivors are also buried.
Photo image of Wernher von Braun walking with President Kennedy at Redstone Arsenal in 1963. Photo courtesy Wikipedia