From the first solid fuel, gunpowder filled bamboo rocket to the giant Saturn moon rocket, history records the interest and use of rockets from early civilization. For thousands of years, documents record the progress of rocketry by China, France, Germany and many other countries.
All US citizen will recall the words in The National Anthem, by Francis Scott Key: “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air”, depicting the weaponry used against the U.S. in the American Revolution.
By 1930, Europe already had a following in rocketry. While in the United States, Robert Goddard began experimenting and building rockets in the early 1900s. He wrote a paper in 1919 titled, “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes” while he was working on his doctorate degree at Clark University. The U.S., at that time, was not interested in the principles of rocketry.
Wernher von Braun, of Germany, started experimenting with rocketry at a young age. He built and launched crude rockets as a boy. He studied the theory and principles of rocketry of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and was selected by Walter Dornberger, to develop a military weapon making use of the V2 rocket for German military use in 1932.
The first A4 rocket was flown in August of 1942. It had mild success as it reached an altitude of 7 miles before it exploded. In October of 1942, the improved rocket traveled 120 miles and hit its target as it followed the planned trajectory.
The A4 later renamed the V2 rocket was the first successful ballistic rocket, and is the grandfather of almost all rockets flown in the world today. Documents state that the Germans had the V2 rocket as early as 1927, but it was not developed for full-scale military warfare until the early 1930s. It went into full production in 1943 with the first V2 launched against London in September of 1944. Fortunately, the V2 came too late to turn the tide of the war for Germany.
As the war came to a conclusion, Wernher von Braun and his team of scientists had to leave Germany or face execution. They chose to leave Germany and surrendered to the American forces before the execution was carried out. The rocket scientists were jealously guarded from the Russians, in particular.
Once in the United States, von Braun used his knowledge and experience at White Sands, N.M. where they started building and launching V2 rockets. In 1949, a V2 variant became the first stage rocket used for space travel. Redstone was one of these rockets.
By 1956, the Jupiter Intermediate range ballistic missile was in development. By 1958, the United States placed its first satellite into space. Three years later, in 1961, astronaut, Alan Shephard became the first American to fly in sub orbital space, launched by the Mercury Redstone rocket.
Despite the occasional backlash from von Braun’s Nazi days in Germany, he was amazing in his ability to move the space program at a rapid pace using V2 rocketry principles. Only one and a half decades passed from the day von Braun came to the United States to the day the first giant moon rocket, Saturn was launched in 1961. Saturn was the launch vehicle for the Apollo Space program.