America Could Have Been First In Space Had the Shackles Been Removed

What Would Have Happened Had the Imaginations of Von Braun and Disney Been Allowed to Develop to The Max?

Von Braun Happy Being Captured by Americans

On This Date in History:  According to Wernher Von Braun, he was forced to join the Nazi Party in 1937.   Some sources claim he joined as early as 1932.  But, Von Braun said that ” My refusal to join the party would have meant that I would have to abandon the work of my life. Therefore, I decided to join. My membership in the party did not involve any political activities …”  Von Braun was perhaps the world’s leading scientist involved in rocket theory and design and the deal was that he had to be a party member if he was to continue his work.  And, that work was dedicated to weapons development and not the venture into space as Von Braun desired.  Nevertheless, his work advanced rocketry.  When the war was over, Von Braun surrendered to the Allies, figuring that he’d get a better post-war deal from the Americans than from the Soviets.

Redstone Medium Range Ballistic Missile

On June 20, 1945 Secretary of State Cordell Hull approved the transfer of Von Braun and his colleagues to America following a procedure that used paperclips to indicate the transfer paperwork.  Hence, the process became known as “Operation Paperclip.”   This program allowed people like Von Braun who were once considered as war criminals or security risks to work in the United States; mostly for the government.  In Von Braun’s case, not only did he go to work for the US Army, he also contracted with Walt Disney to develop educational films.   He and his associates were transferred to Fort Bliss, TX to work with US personnel in training and developing military uses for rockets.  In 1950, Von Braun and his team were sent to Huntsville, Alabama where the former Nazi Party member led the Army’s rocket development team at Redstone Arsenal where they eventually developed the Redstone rocket.    Von Braun became a US citizen in 1955. 

1953 Collier's Sparked Space Interest But Didn't Inspire the Press to Look Forward

Much as he had been with the Nazi’s, Von Braun was trapped in the military world, yet, he still dreamed of a world in which rockets would be used in space exploration.  In 1952, he published a series of articles in Collier’s Weekly titled Man Will Conquer Space Soon!  He wrote about a 250 foot in diameter space station orbiting at 1075 miles above the earth as it rotated to provide artificial gravity.  In spite of his successful development of the Redstone rocket, The first half of the 1950’s were extremely frustrating for the space dreamer.  You see, while he and his mates were focusing on military applications of rocketry, scientists in the Soviet Union were pushing forward with their Sputnik program.  Beginning in 1954, Von Braun lobbied the Eisenhower administration to look beyond the earth’s atmosphere.  He contended that the Redstone rocket could place a satellite in orbit.  In 1956, he even demonstrated the Redstone’s capability when a Redstone blasted 3000 miles over the Atlantic Ocean to an elevation of 600 miles.  Had the rocket carried additional fuel instead of a payload of sand in the upper stages, Von Braun said he could have achieved orbit.  Nevertheless, on this date in 1956, the Eisenhower administration denied Von Braun permission to use a missle to launch a payload into orbit. 

An allie in Von Braun’s efforts could have been the press but, instead of considering the material Von Braun published in regard to a potential space station, the media focused on his past membership in the Nazi Party and the slave labor used to build his V-2 rockets during the war.   The administration had budgetary concerns.  The snoozing boys in the press room and the folks in the administration were suddenly awakened October 4, 1957 when the Soviet Union launched the first satellite into orbit called Sputnik.  It was apparent for the entire world to see just how far the Americans were behind the Soviets in rocket capabilities.  The US Navy developed an inconsistent  and largely unsuccessful Vanguard rocket that was not acceptable so, suddenly, Werner Von Braun and his team was transferred to NASA, which was established on July 29, 1958. 

Unleashed Von Braun Produced the Saturn V

Eventually, the Americans surpassed the Soviets in the “space race” with the ultimate achievement being man first setting foot on the moon on July 20, 1969.  It was made possible by Von Braun’s design of the giant Saturn V rocket that propelled the astronauts to the moon.  At the time, Von Braun said that the Saturn V could be developed further and that missions to Mars would be possible by the 1980’s.  But, budget concerns once again came to the forefront and the press once again lost enthusiasm and Von Braun’s dreams died with him on June 16, 1977.    I wonder what might have  been had Wernher Von Braun’s unlimited imagination not been prohibited from reaching its full potential.

Weather Bottom Line:  Some hope lies ahead for some rain and temperatures will eventually get back to seasonal levels after autumn officially begins on Wednesday.  On that day, a front will come down close enough to perhaps trigger some t’storm activity on a scattered basis.  But, it won’t move through.  So, we’ll still be talking about the low 90’s until the weekend.  Wednesday’s front backs up in advance of another system…that one will come through.  Look for rain and a threat for t’storms on Friday evening and night and the weekend looks great with highs in the low 80’s.   Be patient…the calendar says that summer is almost over and Mother Nature may, in fact, be paying attention.


One Response

  1. Really quite interesting – and I’d never heard about the Von Braun/Disney link. For some reason, that makes me feel good.

    And I think you raise rather nicely the role of imagination in progress. Technology tends to plod along by increments, until someone shows up with the vision to help it make one of those imaginative leaps.

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