Wernher Von Braun was the second of three sons born to Baron Magnus von Braun and Baroness Emmy von Quistorp. He was born on March 23, 1912 in Wirsitz, Posen. Wernher was always a visionary, and when he was ten years old he decided his goal in life would be to “help turn the wheel of time. ” His interests led him to do many things in his early life including composing several pieces of music and recycling old automobile parts to build a new car. Because of spending so much of his time building a car, he flunked in mathematics and physics.
However, it was his decision to explore rocketry that led to his great impact on history. Von Braun, at the age of 16, organized an observatory construction team. His volunteers built a complete observatory in their spare time, working as diggers, bricklayers, and carpenters. In 1930, when he was 20, he enrolled at the Berlin Institute of Technology. He received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, and was offered a grant to conduct and develop scientific investigations on liquid-fueled rocket engines.
A few years later Wernher received his PhD in physics from the University of Berlin. In the mid 1930’s, rocket clubs sprang up all over Germany. One of these clubs, the Verein fur Raumschiffarht had engineer Wernher von Braun as a member. By 1934 von Braun had a team of 80 engineers building rockets in Kummersdorf. With the launch of two rockets, Max and Moritz, in 1934, von Braun’s proposal to work on a jet-assisted take-off device for heavy bombers and all-rocket fighters was granted, But Kummersdorf was too small for the work he needed to do, so a new facility had to be built.
Peenemunde, on the Baltic coast, was picked as the new site. Peenemunde was large enough to launch and monitor rockets over ranges up to about 200 miles, with observing instruments, with no risk of harming people and property. He was then arrested by the SS and the Gestapo for crimes against the state because he kept on talking about building rockets which would go into orbit around the Earth and perhaps go to the Moon.
His crime was indulging in frivolous dreams when he should have been concentrating on building bigger rocket bombs for the Nazi war machine. After arriving back, von Braun immediately assembled his planning staff and asked them to decide how and to who they should surrender to. Most of the scientists were afraid of the Russians, they felt the French would treat them like slaves, and the British did not have enough money to afford a rocket program. That left the Americans.
Von Braun led 500 people through war-torn Germany to surrender to the Americans. The SS were issued orders to kill the engineers. Finally, the team found an American private and surrendered to him. On June 20, 1945, U. S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull approved the transfer of von Braun’s German rocket specialists. While at Fort Bliss, they were ordered to train military, industrial, and university personnel in rockets and guided missiles and to help refurbish, assemble, and launch a number of V-2’s that had been shipped from Germany.
Also, they were to study the future potential of rockets for military and research applications. In the 1950s, von Braun and his team were transferred to Alabama, his home for the next twenty years. NASA was established in July 1958. One day later, the 50th Redstone rocket was fired off Johnson Island. Two years later NASA opened the new Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and transferred von Braun and his development team to NASA. Dr. von Braun was the center’s first Director, from July 1960 to February 1970.