Wernher von Braun

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Wernher von Braun
Wernher Magnus Maximilian, Freiherr von Braun
BirthplaceWirsitz, Provinz Posen, German Empire (modern Wyrzysk, Piła County, Poland)
NationalityGerman, American
Rocket engineer and designer

von Braun, Wernher

(vôn broun), 1912–77, German-American rocket scientist and astronautics engineer, b. Germany, grad. Berlin Technological Institute (B.S., 1932), Univ. of Berlin (Ph.D., 1934). Devoted to the pursuit of rocketry and spaceflight since his teenage years, von Braun assisted Hermann OberthOberth, Hermann Julius,
1894–1989, Austro-German astronautical pioneer, b. Hermannstadt, Austria-Hungary (now Sibiu, Romania). Beginning his studies in astronautics before World War I, he first proposed a liquid-propellant rocket in 1917 and in 1923 published his
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 after 1930 in early experiments in building and firing small liquid fuel rockets. His doctoral studies were funded by the German army, which confiscated and classified his 1934 dissertation. A member of the Nazi party and the SS, von Braun was (1937–45) technical director of the German rocket research center at Peenemünde and was a research professor there from 1943. He was responsible for the successful development of the German V-2 rocket, thousands of which were launched against London and Antwerp during World War II's final year, and he also developed other rocket weapons. At the close of World War II, von Braun, who had buried his records and fled toward the American lines, was brought (1945) to the United States, and soon became a prime figure in the cold war arms race and later in the space program.

From 1945 to 1950 von Braun was technical adviser at the White Sands Proving Grounds and also project director at Fort Bliss, Tex. He went to Huntsville, Ala., in 1950, first as chief of the guided missile development division, Redstone Arsenal (1950–56), and then as director of the development operations division of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (now the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center). There he developed rockets for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's lunar program, most notably the Saturn rockets used for the Apollo missions. In 1970 he became NASA's deputy associate administrator. Von Braun continued to be an ardent advocate of rocket development and space flight, acting as America's best-known spokesman for space exploration. He became a U.S. citizen in 1955. His writings include Across the Space Frontier (1952), The Exploration of Mars (with Willy Ley, 1956), and First Men to the Moon (1960).


See memoir by E. Stuhlinger and F. I. Ordway, 3d (1994); biographies by H. M. David (1967), E. Bergaust (1976), R. Spangenburg and D. K. Moser (1995), D. Piszkiewicz (1998), B. Ward (2005), and M. J. Neufeld (2007); W. Biddle, Dark Side of the Moon (2009).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Von Braun, Wernher


Born Mar. 23, 1912, in Wirsitz, now Wyrzysk, Poland. Scientist in the field of rocket building.

Von Braun studied at the Zurich and Berlin technological institutes and at the University of Berlin. From 1937 he was one of the directors of the German military research center at Peenemünde. His work was linked closely with the plans of Hitler’s military command during World War II. He was the chief designer of the V-2 rocket, which was used for the bombardment of the territory of Great Britain and the Netherlands. Since 1945 he has lived in the USA, where he headed the Research and Development Service for the US Army Ordnance Corps at Fort Bliss (Texas). In 1956 he was appointed program director for the intercontinental Jupiter ballistic missiles and for the Explorer series of artificial earth satellites. Since 1960 he has been the leading member of the USA’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and director of NASA’s Space Flight Center. He is development director for the Saturn carrier rocket series and for the Apollo spaceship series.


Das Marsprojekt. Frankfurt am Main, 1952.
Across the Space Frontier. New York, 1952.
Space Medicine. New York, 1952.
The Conquest of the Moon. New York, 1953.
Station in Space. New York, 1953.
The Exploration of Mars. New York, 1956. (In collaboration with W. Ley.)
Project Satellite. New York, 1958.
First Men to the Moon. New York, 1960.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Von Braun, Wernher

(1912–77) engineer, rocket expert; born in Wirsitz, Germany. Developer of the V-2 flying bomb that was deployed against Britain (1944), he was one of the most important of the German weapons specialists to work on rocketry and jet propulsion in America after the war. Hitler personally released him when he was imprisoned on espionage charges after refusing to cooperate with Gestapo Chief Heinrich Himmler's attempted takeover of the V-2 project. Von Braun never approved of the military use of the rocket and surrendered willingly to American troops (1945). Signing a one-year contract with the U.S. Army, he was flown to America where he eventually became technical director of the U.S. Army Ordnance Guided Missile Project in Alabama (1950). He was chiefly responsible for the manufacture and launching of the first American artificial earth satellite, Explorer I (1958). As director of the Marshall Space Flight Center (1960–70), he developed the Saturn rocket for the Apollo 8 moon landing (1969). Good-looking and outgoing, he was occasionally the butt of both humorous and serious attacks aimed at the very notion of former German scientists working for the U.S. space program.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.