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Wernher von Braun

Wernher von BraunAKA Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun

Born: 23-Mar-1912
Birthplace: Wyrzysk, Poland
Died: 16-Jun-1977
Location of death: Alexandria, VA
Cause of death: Cancer - unspecified
Remains: Buried, Ivy Hillside Cemetery, Alexandria, VA

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Scientist

Nationality: Germany
Executive summary: German-American rocket scientist

Military service: German Army (Ordnance Board, 1932-45)

Wernher von Braun's imagination was sparked in childhood by reading the science fiction novels of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, and in adolescence he read everything he could find on the science of rocketry. He studied at the University of Berlin, joined the Nazi Party and the German Army, and in 1937 he was promoted, becoming Director of a top secret German rocket facility at Peenemünde on Germany's Baltic coast. There von Braun and his staff experimented with liquid-fueled rocket aircraft and jet-assisted takeoffs, and designed and built the V-2 ballistic missiles.

Toward the end of World War II, von Braun and his key staff from Peenemünde fled the advancing Russians and surrendered to American forces. During his interrogation, von Braun offered a detailed report on the potential of rocket science, predicting that rockets could be used as more than weapons — for launching satellites, building space stations, even exploring the galaxy. After verifying his expertise, the Americans launched a plan code-named Operation Paper Clip, transporting von Braun and his associates across the Atlantic Ocean, and putting them to work designing US ballistic missiles.

In 1952 he became head of the Army's ballistic weapon program, where he led the design and development team that built the Juno, Jupiter-C, Redstone, and Pershing missiles. In 1955 he was rewarded for his service by being granted American citizenship. With James Van Allen and others, von Braun was at the forefront of the team that developed the first American space satellite, Explorer I. In 1960 he was named Director of NASA's new Marshall Space Flight Center, where he oversaw development of the Saturn V rocket that sent American astronauts into space during the Apollo missions.

To generations of American school children von Braun was hailed as a hero, and indeed, during the first half of the 20th century, he was the world's most well-known rocket developer and advocate for exploration of space. Nitpickers might point out, however, that the very existence of the Peenemünde facility was a violation of international law, that forced laborers provided support services there, and that von Braun certainly must have known this.

Father: Baron Magnus von Braun (banker)
Mother: Baroness Emmy von Quistorp
Wife: Mary Louise von Quistorp ("Maria", m. 1-Mar-1947, until his death, three children)
Daughter: Iris Careen (b. Dec-1948)
Daughter: Margrit Cecile
Son: Peter Constantine

    High School: Hermann Lietz School, Weimar, Germany
    University: BS Mechanical Engineering, Berlin Institute of Technology (1932)
    University: PhD Physics, University of Berlin (1934)

    NASA Director, Marshall Space Flight Center (1960-72)
    Disney Technical Advisor, television programming
    Disneyland Technical Advisor, Tomorrowland design
    Grand Cross for Federal Services 1959
    NASA Distinguished Service Award 1969
    National Aviation Hall of Fame 1982
    American Astronautical Society Fellow
    National Socialist German Workers Party (Nov-1937)
    Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society
    Dereliction of Duty arrested by the Gestapo (Feb-1944), no charges filed
    Polygraphed (Dec-1954)
    German Ancestry
    Polish Ancestry
    Defected 1945
    Naturalized US Citizen 1955
    Lunar Crater von Braun (41.1°N, 78.0°W, 60 km. diameter)
    Risk Factors: Smoking

Author of books:
Conquest of the Moon (1953, science; with Cornelius Ryan)
The Exploration of Mars (1956, science; with Willy Ley)
Careers in Astronautics and Rocketry (1962, non-fiction; with Carsbie C. Adams)
History of Rocketry & Space Travel (1966, science; with Frederick Ira Ordway)
Space Frontier (1967, science)
The Rockets' Red Glare (1976, science; with Frederick Ira Ordway)
New Worlds: Discoveries from Our Solar System (1979, science)
Project Mars (2006, novel; posthumous; translated by Henry J. White)

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