The Nazi Rocketeers: Dreams of Space and Crimes of War

The Nazi Rocketeers: Dreams of Space and Crimes of War

The Nazi Rocketeers: Dreams of Space and Crimes of War

The Nazi Rocketeers: Dreams of Space and Crimes of War

Excerpt

Wernher von Braun entered the consciousness of America as its prophet of space travel on a Sunday evening in 1955. He had been hired by Walt Disney to develop a series of stories for his Disneyland television program. The show itself was designed to plug Disney's new amusement park in California, which had a space-travel-oriented section called Tomorrowland; and von Braun appeared on the program to explain the intricacies of space travel. True, von Braun had appeared on television earlier, and he had written many magazine articles; but Disney gave him one of the new medium's most popular hours as a podium to sell his ideas and himself. With his smooth German accent, von Braun came across as foreign as outer space; yet with Disney as his patron, he became as familiar as Mickey Mouse and he seemed as squeaky clean as Snow White.

Some Americans still remember von Braun's appearances on television. They are in their late forties or older, and many of them are career scientists, like myself. We were influenced by von Braun and others of that era who told us that education was important, and that scientific education was necessary if we ever wanted to participate in the great adventure of exploring space. We eventually learned--if we did not know already--that von Braun had designed the V-2 missile that had rained terror on London during World War II, a war many of us did not remember. According to his story, von Braun had little choice but to let his genius be exploited by the Nazis. Now, in the mid-1950s, he was working for the United States Army to build rockets that would defend us from the Communists.

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