Ley, Willy(1906–69) rocket scientist, writer; born in Berlin, Germany. He studied science at German universities, but abandoned his plan to be a geologist after reading (1926) a work by the rocket scientist, Hermann Oberth. Ley took the lead in founding the German Society for Space Travel (1927), made it the center of international activity in rocket research, brought Wernher von Braun and others into the group, conducted important experiments, and in particular helped develop the liquid-fuel rocket. When the Nazis forced rocket research into military applications, he fled to the U.S.A. (1935). Unable to find financial support for rocket research and space travel, he turned to writing about all aspects of science, from astronomy to zoology, and became widely known as a popularizer of science. But he never lost his faith in space travel, writing numerous science-fiction and nonfiction accounts, including the award-winning Conquest of Space (1949). He advised filmmakers from Fritz Lang to Walt Disney on space travel. During World War II he advised Americans on bombs and explosive devices.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.