75 years of Innovators: Werner von Braun

Jan. 8, 2004
Werner von Braun was a life-long champion of space travel and rocketry.

In the 75 years since Machine Design began publication, here are some of the people who have changed the way we live.

Werner von Braun
Rocket man

In his career with the Army and NASA, he was instrumental in building the Pershing, Redstone, Jupiter, and Jupiter-C ballistic missiles, the Explorer satellite, Saturn 1 and Saturn V boosters, and Skylab, the first space station. He was also a key member of the Gemini and Apollo projects. His work not only changed the course of space exploration, it played a huge role in the Cold War.

He joined the German Army in 1932 to work on ballistic missiles. He ended up team leader on the V-2 project, one of the first long-range rocket-based weapons. But he was still fascinated by space travel and made plans for building interplanetary rockets. When the first V-2 hit London, von Braun told his colleagues, "The rocket worked perfectly except for landing on the wrong planet." The Nazis arrested him for crimes against the state, saying he should concentrate on bigger and better weapons rather than frivolous notions like sending rockets to the Moon. Fortunately for him, his superior talked them out of prosecuting.

In 1945, knowing Germany would lose the war, he negotiated the surrender of 500 top rocket scientists to the U.S. where many went to work on U.S. missiles as part of Project Paperclip.

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