Braun, Wernher Manfred von

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b. 23 March 1912 Wirsitz, Germany
d. 16 June 1977 Alexandria, Virginia, USA
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German pioneer in rocket development.
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Von Braun's mother was an amateur astronomer who introduced him to the futuristic books of Jules Verne and H.G.Wells and gave him an astronomical telescope. He was a rather slack and undisciplined schoolboy until he came across Herman Oberth's book By Rocket to Interplanetary Space. He discovered that he required a good deal of mathematics to follow this exhilarating subject and immediately became an enthusiastic student.
The Head of the Ballistics and Armaments branch of the German Army, Professor Karl Becker, had asked the engineer Walter Dornberger to develop a solid-fuel rocket system for short-range attack, and one using liquid-fuel rockets to carry bigger loads of explosives beyond the range of any known gun. Von Braun joined the Verein für Raumschiffsfahrt (the German Space Society) as a young man and soon became a leading member. He was asked by Rudolf Nebel, VfR's chief, to persuade the army of the value of rockets as weapons. Von Braun wisely avoided all mention of the possibility of space flight and some financial backing was assured. Dornberger in 1932 built a small test stand for liquid-fuel rockets and von Braun built a small rocket to test it; the success of this trial won over Dornberger to space rocketry.
Initially research was carried out at Kummersdorf, a suburb of Berlin, but it was decided that this was not a suitable site. Von Braun recalled holidays as a boy at a resort on the Baltic, Peenemünde, which was ideally suited to rocket testing. Work started there but was not completed until August 1939, when the group of eighty engineers and scientists moved in. A great fillip to rocket research was received when Hitler was shown a film and was persuaded of the efficacy of rockets as weapons of war. A factory was set up in excavated tunnels at Mittelwerk in the Harz mountains. Around 6,000 "vengeance" weapons were built, some 3,000 of which were fired on targets in Britain and 2,000 of which were still in storage at the end of the Second World War.
Peenemünde was taken by the Russians on 5 May 1945, but by then von Braun was lodging with many of his colleagues at an inn, Haus Ingeburg, near Oberjoch. They gave themselves up to the Americans, and von Braun presented a "prospectus" to the Americans, pointing out how useful the German rocket team could be. In "Operation Paperclip" some 100 of the team were moved to the United States, together with tons of drawings and a number of rocket missiles. Von Braun worked from 1946 at the White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico, and in 1950 moved to Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama. In 1953 he produced the Redstone missile, in effect a V2 adapted to carry a nuclear warhead a distance of 320 km (199 miles). The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was formed in 1958 and recruited von Braun and his team. He was responsible for the design of the Redstone launch vehicles which launched the first US satellite, Explorer 1, in 1958, and the Mercury capsules of the US manned spaceflight programme which carried Alan Shepard briefly into space in 1961 and John Glenn into earth orbit in 1962. He was also responsible for the Saturn series of large, staged launch vehicles, which culminated in the Saturn V rocket which launched the Apollo missions taking US astronauts for the first human landing on the moon in 1969. Von Braun announced his resignation from NASA in 1972 and died five years later.
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Bibliography
1981, with F.L.Ordway, History of Rocketry and Space Travel
Further Reading
P.Marsh, 1985, The Space Business, Penguin. J.Trux, 1985, The Space Race, New English Library. T.Osman, 1983, Space History, Michael Joseph.
IMcN

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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