Although Wernher von Braun was born on March 23, 1912, he was clearly born in the wrong time period. His brilliant ideas and innovative works were far ahead of his time. He alone became the very backbone of both NASA and space travel. Without him, the Moon may still have not been traveled onto by man.
Wernher was born in the province of Posen. His passion for astronomy and space started when his mother gave him a telescope. When he was twelve, they moved to Berlin, Germany where he would spend hours at a time on his telescope. However in the school, he was struggling with physics and math. Wernher eventually went to the Technical University of Berlin where he conducted rocket motor tests.
Wernher’s first step into success happened when the National Socialist German Workers Party took over, and rockets were in high demand. He was given a research grant and was awarded a doctorate in physics, the very subject that he struggled in throughout his childhood. Through his years of research and testing, he developed the A-4 rockets, later named V-2, which were very successful. World War II started, and Wernher became an officer in the Waffen-SS. Adolf Hitler heard about Wernher’s rockets and Werner gave Hitler a demonstration. Shortly after, Hitler signed the approval of A-4 rockets production and renamed them V-2, the V stood for vengeance. Even with the rockets, the war was not going well for the Germans. Wernher knew that all hope was lost and decided to surrender to the Americans, because he had heard that the Soviets were cruel to prisoners of war. The US had heard of Wernher’s rockets and immediately transported him to the US for questioning.
Von Braun was transported to an Army installation in Texas. There, he trained the military in rockets and missiles. He also started to assemble and launch more V-2 rockets for the US. The US Army was very interested in the future potential of using rockets as weapons. During his stay in America, he proposed to his cousin Maria Quistorp and was given permission to go to Germany to marry. They had three children together. The Korean War broke out, and Wernher led the Army’s rocket development team at Redstone Arsenal. There he created the Redstone rocket, which was the first nuclear ballistic missile. The success of the rocket was phenomenal, and he was named director of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. Afterwards, he developed the Jupiter-C rocket. The Jupiter-C launched the first US satellite, Explorer 1, which gave birth to the America’s space program.
Von Braun moved back to his childhood ambitions of space travel when he envisioned the future of rockets to be used in space travel. Von Braun published many articles to get his ideas out and eventually came up with the idea of a space station. However, his ideas faced opposition as the public still didn’t over the fact that he was part of Nazi regime. The space station would be built by using rockets and would be home to fifty scientists that could do experiments and tests in space. He came up with the idea in the 1960s, and today the International Space Station is a direct result of his ideas. After constructing ideas for the space station, he then came up with concepts for a manned Mars mission. Even today, this feat hasn’t even been attempted.
When the US realized they were behind the Soviets in the Space Race, they knew they needed Wernher Von Braun. He became one of the most influential people in NASA. At NASA, Von Braun constructed the Saturn V launch vehicle which was a super booster that was eventually used to launch the first man onto the Moon. However, Von Braun was frustrated when the popular support for space exploration depleted when the goal of getting a man on the Moon was accomplished. This led him to retire from NASA.
After leaving NASA, Wernher became the vice president of Fairchild Industries, an aerospace company. He was soon diagnosed of kidney cancer that was spreading fast. Even with his bad health, he established the National Space Institute. His poor health eventually got him, and he was forced to retire. Werner von Braun died on June 16, 1977 at the age of 65 leaving behind an unmatched legacy.