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Thu Jul 18, 2019, 11:22 AM

How Historians Are Reckoning With the Former Nazi Who Launched America's Space Program


Werner von Braun (1912-1977), the German-born American rocket engineer with model rockets. Hulton Deutsch—Corbis via Getty Images

BY ALEJANDRO DE LA GARZA
11:27 AM EDT
Sporting a gray double-breasted suit, slicked-back curls and a slide rule, rocket engineer Wernher von Braun cuts a suave, authoritative figure in Disney’s 1955 television special Man and the Moon. Speaking with a German accent, the then-director of development at the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency in Huntsville, Ala., uses a series of models and illustrations to explain how America will reach the moon — with the aid of an enormous nuclear-powered space station, of course.

The United States eventually planted a flag on the lunar surface, though without the help of any orbital reactors. And all through the Space Race, von Braun, a German scientist scooped up by the U.S. in the waning days of World War II, was the public face of the American space program, as well as one of its chief architects. But much of the Cold War-era coverage of von Braun downplayed the darker details of his past: before he was building rockets for America, he was building them for Hitler. Germany launched more than 3,000 missiles of his design against Britain and other countries, indiscriminately killing approximately 5,000 people, while as many as 20,000 concentration camp prisoners died assembling the weapons.

In the years since the original Space Race has ended, historians have begun to reassess von Braun’s legacy. Some have portrayed his time working for the Nazis as a survival strategy, but others have gone so far as to frame him as a war criminal, or something close to it. Von Braun died in 1977, so there’s no possibility of hearing him out. But as the country and the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing — a feat that might not have been possible without von Braun’s contributions — his image, as Cold War hero, whitewashed Nazi villain or something in between, is being debated more fiercely than ever, as is the extent of America’s moral bargaining in using him to propel its otherworldly ambitions.

Looking back on the father of the American lunar program, there are few easy answers.


Born to an aristocratic Prussian family, Wernher von Braun became obsessed with space travel early in life, studying fields like physics and mathematics in order to grasp the fundamentals of rocketry. As a young man, he launched primitive rockets with other enthusiasts at an abandoned ammunition dump in suburban Berlin. The experiments, and von Braun’s leadership of the group, piqued the interest of the German army. In 1932, the 20-year-old wunderkind became the top civilian specialist at the German army’s Kummersdorf rocket station, south of Berlin. By 1935, von Braun’s group had successfully fired two rockets using liquid-fueled engines, a then-embryonic technology that became the basis for modern spaceflight. The facility was soon moved to a new location on the Baltic coast at Peenemünde.

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https://time.com/5627637/nasa-nazi-von-braun/

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Reply How Historians Are Reckoning With the Former Nazi Who Launched America's Space Program (Original post)
RCW2014 Jul 2019 OP
quad489 Jul 2019 #1
Magyar Heidinn Jul 2019 #2
Grumpy Pickle Jul 2019 #3
Magyar Heidinn Jul 2019 #4

Response to RCW2014 (Original post)

Thu Jul 18, 2019, 11:39 AM

1. And what would have happened to Von Braun had he not officially joined the nazi party...???

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Response to RCW2014 (Original post)

Thu Jul 18, 2019, 12:37 PM

2. There is the CIA and Gehlen Network.

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Response to Magyar Heidinn (Reply #2)

Thu Jul 18, 2019, 12:51 PM

3. Didn't Henry Kissinger have something to do with this ?.....as an interpreter or something ?

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Response to Grumpy Pickle (Reply #3)

Thu Jul 18, 2019, 01:18 PM

4. Have never came across any reference to Kissinger in what I have read about Gehlen.

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