On March 23, 1912, Baron Magnus von Braun and Baroness Emmy von Quistorp celebrated the birth of their second son, Wernher von Braun. During Wernher’s early life, he composed a few pieces of music and recycled old automobile parts to build a new car. Regrettably, because he spent so much time on this car, Wernher flunked mathematics and physics.
Wernher apparently passed English class because it was only after reading Hermann Oberth’s Rocket into Planetary Space and receiving a telescope from his mother that Wernher von Braun decided to become a space pioneer and physicist.
Wernher von Braun had some hereditary attributes to help him, some of them are his leadership skills and his ability to encourage and inspire others to follow him. And in 1928, those characteristics led him to organize a team with the objective of building an observatory in their spare time.
Two years later, Wernher enrolled at the Berlin Institute of Technology. He received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering two years later. Not long after, Wernher was offered a grant to research liquid-fueled rocket engines. And in 1934, Wernher von Braun received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Berlin.
In the early 1930s, “rocket clubs” began to spring up all over Germany. Wernher expressed such an interest in one of these clubs in particular, Verein fur Raumschiffarht (Rocket Society), that he joined it.
Meanwhile, the German military was looking for a weapon that could defend Germany but not violate the Treaty of Versailles, established at the end of World War I. Artillery captain Walter Dornberger was assigned by the German military to consider the possibility of using rockets. He went to see the Verein fur Raumschiffarht for ideas, and impressed with their enthusiasm gave then $400 to build a rocket. The club worked throughout the spring and summer of 1932 only to have the rocket fail when tested in front of the military. In spite of this, Dornberger saw enough potential in Wernher that he hired him to head the German military’s rocket artillery unit. By 1934 von Braun and Dornbeger had a team of 80 engineers building rockets in Kummersdorf, about 60 miles south of Berlin. Wernher had yet another opportunity to show off his leadership skills along with his ability to take in a great deal of information while keeping his mind on the big picture. After the successful launches of Max and Moritz, two liquid-fuel rockets, von Braun requested that he work on a jet-assisted take-off device for heavy bombers and all-rocket fighters. And his request was granted. However, Kummersdorf was far too small for this task, so a new facility was built.
Peenemunde, located on the Baltic coastline, was chosen as the site. Peenemunde was large enough to launch and monitor rockets over ranges of about 200 miles using optical and electric observing trajectory along with other factors while not risking impairment upon people and property.
By now Hitler was ruling Germany and Herman Goering was commander of the Luftwaffe (the German Air Force). The result of Hitler and Goering’s desire for global domination was continued funding to von Braun’s team; which allowed them to develop the A-3 and later the A-4, both liquid-fuel rockets.
In 1943 Hitler decided to use the A-4 as a “vengeance weapon,” and von Braun and his associates discovered they were now finding a way to rig an A-4 to rain explosives down upon England. Fourteen months later the first combat A-4, know known as the V-2, was launched. When it successfully detonated...