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date: 19 January 2019

von Braun, Wernher Magnus Maximilian

A Dictionary of Space Exploration
Stephen O'MearaStephen O'Meara, E. Julius DaschE. Julius Dasch

von Braun, Wernher Magnus Maximilian (1912–1977) German rocket engineer 

responsible for Germany's rocket development programme in World War II (V1 and V2), who later worked for the space agency NASA in the USA. He also invented the Saturn rocket (Saturn V) that sent the Apollo project spacecraft to the Moon in 1969.

During the 1940s he was technical director of the research team at Peenemünde on the Baltic coast that produced the V1 (flying bomb) and supersonic V2 rockets. In the 1950s von Braun was part of the team that produced rockets for US satellites (the first, Explorer 1, was launched early 1958) and early space flights by astronauts.

Von Braun was born in Wirsitz (now in Poland) and studied in Berlin and Zürich. In 1930 he joined a group of scientists who were experimenting with rockets, and in 1938 became technical director of the Peenemünde military rocket establishment. He joined the Nazi Party in 1940. In the last days of the war in 1945, von Braun and his staff, not wishing to be captured in the Soviet-occupied part of Germany, travelled to the West to surrender to US forces. Soon afterwards von Braun began work at the US Army Ordnance Corps testing grounds at White Sands, New Mexico. In 1952 he became technical director of the army's ballistic-missile programme. He held an administrative post at NASA 1970–2, and founded the National Space Society.