The First Terranaut Wernher von Braun

Dr. Wernher von Braun, director of Marshall Space Flight Center. Credit: NASA.

In the first season of the Terranauts podcast host Iain Christie mixed interviews with narrated episodes of his Terranauts Guide to Leaving the Planet. This week, in episode two of season two, and following the interview Colleen Merchant in the first episode, Iain starts a new track in the Terranauts Guide to Leaving the Planet, narrating the fascinating history of the first Terranauts starting with Wernher von Braun.

Wernher von Braun – A complicated life

von Braun’s life and story is a complicated one. His work, which started in earnest in Germany shortly before World War II, led to the first rockets that sent humans to space.

And while von Braun’s legacy of being a rocket pioneer in which he helped humans set foot on the Moon, his World War II activities can’t be ignored. In their biography of von Braun’s life, NASA frames his work before and during World War II this way.

“In late 1932 he (von Braun) went to work for the German army to develop liquid-fuel rockets. Based on his army-funded research, von Braun received a doctorate in physics on July 27, 1934.”

“The V–2 ballistic missile, the antecedent of U.S. and Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles, was the primary brainchild of von Braun’s rocket team. After 1937 they worked at a secret laboratory at Peenemünde on the Baltic coast. A liquid propellant missile 46 feet in length and weighing 27,000 pounds, the V-2 flew at speeds in excess of 3,500 miles per hour and delivered a 2,200-pound warhead to a target 200 miles away. First successfully launched in October 1942, it was employed against targets in Western Europe beginning in September 1944. The V-2 assembly plant at the Mittelwerk, near the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, used slave labor, as did a number of other production sites. Von Braun was a member of the Nazi Party and an SS officer, yet was also arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 for careless remarks he made about the war and the rocket. His responsibility for the crimes connected to rocket production is controversial.”

While Iain touches on von Braun’s controversial early work, it’s a light touch. Instead, Iain weaves a narrative that outlines how von Braun’s work made its way from Germany to the Manhattan Project, to the Marshall Space Flight Center, to the Moon and the people and programs it touched.

About Terranauts Season 2

This year on Terranauts we’re going to offer a mix of interviews with Terranauts, people who go to space all the time without leaving the planet, and we’re also planning regular instalments of the Terranauts Guide to Leaving the Planet where we explore the history of humankind’s adventures off the planet.

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About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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