Wernher von Braun was a rocket scientist and aerospace engineer who at first worked for German Reich and, after the WWII, for the American government. Wernher was born in 1912 in a noble German family shortly before the titles of the nobility were stripped from them and a new political struggle began in Germany. Life of dedication to astronomy, engineering and rocket science led Wernher to be one of the most influential figures in the 20th century in terms of space programs’ development. Even though the Nazi regime made the work possible for Wernher only if the latter participated in military-grade projects, the love for space exploration eventually made Wernher glorious when he later started working for NASA. The apotheosis of Werhner von Braun’s lifework was a famous Moon mission. Being a leading architect of the Apollo launch vehicle, Werhner von Braun can be considered as one of the most important persons in the 20th-century space exploration. The persona of Wernher von Braun’s persona was definitely larger than life itself. A lot of material has been documented about his professional expertise in transforming the space vision into reality and his active life as well as these controversial life aspects that were part of the space launch program. In a direct or an indirect manner, he was highly responsible and connected with the contest to the space program and became an integral factor in the 21st century in order to help the humanity in the initial steps out of the Tsiokolsky’s lap on to the Moon.
Wernher’s childhood and early years were mostly nonchalant aside from several peculiar facts that related him to the field of rocket science and astronomy. For example, the future pioneer of space exploration was born on March 23, 1912, and, at the age of three years had already requested his first telescope. Apparently, young Wernher (who was still considered a part of German nobility at that time) developed earning for the stars early in life. It is interesting to note that the soon-to-be leading German rocket scientist did not much care for physics and math in his early school years; instead, he played piano quite well and appreciated German composers. The only indication of the possible career in rocket science field was an incident in 1924: 12-years old Wernher decided to copy the attempts of breaking the speed record for rocket-propelled cars, tied a bunch of fireworks to a toy wagon and caused a large explosion in the middle of a street. During the mid-war period of Germany, Braun is considered to be the very dominant and aristocratic von Braun. When he was young, his nobility influenced and played an integral role in his upbringing and education in the society. His strong education compelled him to take a strong leadership position, focus on the space stations and target social, musical, and philosophical components as part of his lifestyle. His strong social presence provided him with the platform to indulge in the big view of sky and space exploration purpose that was established on the work of Goddard and Oberth, Tsiolkovsky. This Big Sky view was bought by President Kennedy then, and it is still followed today despite being followed and implemented at a turtle’s space.
The following life and hobbies of Wernher were mostly related to rockets and adjoining fields. It is said that genuine and more or less structured love toward rockets started with the book called “By Rockets into Planetary Space” with which Wernher got acquainted about a year after his explosive attempt at launching toy wagon toward existing speed records. Since space travel proved to be quite a source of fascination for the future scientist, he decided to overcome his dislike toward physics and mathematics and, at the age of 16, applied for the appropriate courses at school. Upon graduation, he entered the Technical University of Berlin where Wernher joined the author of his favorite school-time book (Hermann Oberth) within the bounds of Spaceflight Society. At the university and, especially, at the site of the Society Wernher conducted his first liquid-fueled rocket engine tests which would later become the work of his life and the reason German Reich was so interested in this particular scientist.
Wernher von Braun’s work and cooperation with the Third Reich is a somewhat ambiguous subject which, at that time was a rather sensitive matter for the scientist – understandably so, since the Nazi regime was accused of multiple war crimes, and Wernher was one of the most noticeable non-political figures of the regime. Obviously, Wermacht could not have been less concerned with space exploration; instead, it required efficient missiles and better rocket engines. Wernher considered this the work of his life and was forced with a choice of whether abandoning it for good or joining the Party (later SS) and continuing his research for the benefit of military forces.
The very first invention associated with von Braun’s name is V-2 rocket which was used against Britain at the beginning of the war. Aside from being the most famous project, it was also one of the more ambiguous projects of Wernher; suffice it to say that most of the V-2 missiles were produced in concentration camps where working conditions were next to inhuman. Besides, the scientific society of that time could not fail to notice the likelihood of V-2 and Robert Goddard’s research results. Therefore, copyright and ethical issues sparked a discussion that inevitably led to Wernher. He, of course, denied all the implications of these suggestions, pointing out inconsistencies in his critics’ accusations and demonstrating dignified intolerance whenever the subject of cruelty in concentration camps was brought out. Anyway, since Wernher was one of the leading experts on liquid propellant rockets at that time in Germany, he was obviously in charge of the research that eventually led to the creation of “vengeance weapon,” as German propaganda started calling V-2 project. Successful testing of the missile in 1943 proved to be one of the most significant points in Wernher’s early career since he was given a professor title by Adolf Hitler personally.
Another important implementation of Wernher’s work came from his cooperation with Luftwaffe. Experiments with rocket-propelled aircraft started as early as 1936; a year later the method of combustion-propelled plane proved to be successful that started a new era of aircraft programs and flight industry. It should be noted that at the time there existed two solutions to the problem of propelling an aircraft via rocket method: von Braun’s (that used direct combustion) and Hellmuth Walter’s (that used a chain of chemical reactions). Both of the methods were rather effective in comparison with piston engine aircraft but, as it turned out, von Braun’s solution was more elegant, simpler and less costly.
Despite indisputably grand role in increasing the Third Reich’s process via scientific research, Wernher von Braun was arrested in the March of 1944. However, the arrest was rather a result of the undercover game led by Himmler rather than any serious opposition that von Braun presented. While it was true that he never supported Nazi ideas and justified violence, Wernher proved to be quite an opportunist in terms of cooperation with Wermacht. Nevertheless, he managed to enrage Himmler who was plotting to take over Wernher’s armament programs and, therefore, recommended Heinrich Kammler (Himmler’s accomplice) to solve the problems accompanying V-2 and subsequent V-4 programs. Polite refusal by Wernher was a real cause of his following arrest; official reason was “defeatist tendencies and support of Soviet ideas” that Wernher occasionally expressed in the closed circle of his friends. However, since von Braun was one of the leading rocket scientists of that time, his detention could not have gone forever; in fact, he was released two weeks after arrest to work on V-4.The war which was not going as well as propaganda claimed, poor conditions for working Germans and the incident with a seemingly irrelevant arrest made von Braun reconsider his attitude toward cooperation with the German Reich. In 1945, when the Allies reached the Berlin territory and mass evacuation was scheduled, von Braun started his own plot which included surrender to the Americans. Due to the reasons that he never fully articulated, the scientists arranged for 500 affiliates and himself to move to the area of Mittelwerk where they were supposed to resume the research. However, instead of being consumed with work, they made it to Austria where von Braun’s brother uncovered their position to a US private. What followed was capture and evacuation of the whole group. It is interesting to note that Wernher was one of the most important figures on the Black List (people wanted for interrogation by the US). Therefore, nobody hesitated to transfer him from the German territory to the US, where Wernher von Braun would spend the rest of his life and participate in much-loved space exploration programs sponsored by NASA.
In the words of Adolf Hitler, the von Braun is described as an individual who shares some astonishing intellectual capabilities and provides great hypnotic influence of his presence on the surroundings.
This came from the man who shared practically the same similarities as von Braun is popular for his charisma and intellectual capabilities. Hence, Von Braun has been identified with the most popular men in the history like Hitler not because of their concerns and morals but because of their capabilities. This is most significant to the personal code of von Braun as he valued the competence, capabilities and intellectual level more than how an individual actually used these qualities. On the other hand, he considered that the greatest technological potential of his work and life is far more than how it is used by the Third Reich.
Alongside this concern, his choices meanwhile being in Germany clearly highlight his response and willingness to make an effort by taking a side. This is obvious throughout the war as the Nazi government already had many small groups that are fighting with each other for control and power whereas if seen from the military side one party was that of the army that had external protection from the Germans. The other party was SS that had internal protection under Heinrich Himmler. This included the avoiding and ignoring the local police force in operating a concentration camp in the area.
As his program was highlighted and became highly imperative in the war, his support and cooperation were required by all especially the army. The main contact from the military side for the V2 program included Walter Dornberger. On the other side, Heinrich Himmler on the personal level was very much interested in von Braun’s personality and military programs and requested that he join his coalition of SS. Throughout the war, von Braun came into an awkward position because he was still a member of SS meanwhile he was working closely with the army officials. Even though he felt that SS membership was unnecessary at that time and he hardly wore his SS uniform except for certain occasions. In this case, his subordinates in the SS team also put on their uniforms due to which they were given the “SS platoon 4-9.”
Von Braun played a dual game here because he presented a positive image of being a scientist to his team but a useful yet a false identity of military personnel to his seniors and people in the rule. Between the years of 1952-1954, von Braun was the main participant in an integral campaign to sell the spaceflight. This campaign is considered to be the forerunner to the programs that came later on for the progressive, peaceful, and scientific exploration of the space activities. Whereas, Braun’s main plan for the space travel that he has been budding since 1946 was a space station that was actually manned and it only served as a prime base for further exploration of the space regions but also as the focal point for the reconnaissance station and platform in order to achieve the superiority of space over the USSR.
This is considered to be the launching point of the space stations along with many other integral ideas presented by von Braun. One of these ideas included that the space station will be equipped to launch the nuclear missiles if some country challenges the station’s defensibility and an atomic strike could be posited from space as a reply to any hostile activity of a satellite of any other country especially USSR. For him, this space station was the main ground and weapon which could clearly demonstrate a certain level of superiority of U.S. over USSR. This was an integral contribution to the 21st century because von Braun is practically the first person who used the word “space superiority” through print media. This word was coined by von Braun and now is known as a common term that advocates space control and space power as projected on the US Air Force (USAF). It is quite really unknown if the ideas presented by von Braun did really impact the early space policy of the Air Force. It is interesting to relate that in Feb 1957 a speech presented by Maj. Gen. Bernard Schriever, who was then the head of the USAF ballistic missile program, stated that in the long run, the safety of our country greatly depends upon achieving the “space superiority.” The degree to which von Braun visualized his “Mars Project” was grandiose. For the first main expedition to Mars, the robotics or humans there were be 10 spaceships that will together weigh 82 million pounds that will be assembled in the orbit of Earth and transport almost 70 men to the red planet. He was quite optimistic that the total cost of this expedition would be nearly US$ 2 Billion. This was the image of von Braun to project the system of America over the entire global system.
During this period, von Braun and his team moved to the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, between 1950 and 1956 when it developed Redstone rocket. In April 1955, von Braun and almost 40 of his members of the team were awarded U.S. citizenship. The Redstone project played an integral role in the early American space program, but since the government was slow in responding, the Russian space program moved ahead of the U.S. space program leading to an alarming situation for the United States. After the World War II, both the superpowers became engaged in the Cold War. This was a period of the political animosity which resulted in the arms race leading to military superiority among both nations and a space race to be the first one on space. Both the countries fought to send the first humans into space officially. On the other hand, von Braun continued to inform the US officials of the Russian supremacy in space, but all his requests were ignored and denied to orbit a satellite in space. Before von Braun moved to Huntsville, von Braun gave an extremely high profile speech in the country at an Air Force sponsored conference on the space medicine in 1950.
This conference was of significance in the 21st century because his main role was to justify the significance of the space travel as a forerunner to the discussions given by the Germans aerospace medicine professionals who had traveled to Texas under the similar program as discussed by Braun. This lecture became the first main American publication ”Multi-Stage Rockets and Artificial Satellites,” as the proceedings of the conference were published until the end of 1951.
Besides all his effort and work for the aerospace, he was promoted to the human spaceflight program which helped in the foundation of the National Space Institute in 1975 where Braun served as the first president. He published many books because he was highly an advocate for the spaceflight and magazine articles. He became a consultant of the films and television programs and gave many testimonies and proves in front of the U.S. Congress for the space flight programs and the possibilities that can incur in them. His most important contribution was the magazine articles of Colliers that were published between 1952-1953 and the Disney series between 1955-1957. These magazine articles and the various television programs have been considered to be highly beneficial and influential throughout so that the Americans can gain space superiority over Russians.
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