In his days (1912-1977), Dr.Wernher Margunus Von Braun, a German native, was a space super star rivaled only by a few earlier astronauts and sometime later by Neil Armstrong; thus posthumously acquiring the title ‘the greatest rocket scientist in history.’ From childhood he showed interest in astronomy and space travel. While still a teenager he came across the picture of a rocket travelling to the moon drawn by Herman Oberth; a Scientist. When his mother realized his interest in astronomy, she bought him a telescope. He had shown little interest in school as a teenager failing terribly in math and physics. Nevertheless his burning interest in astrology made him apply more efforts in his studies (Medaris, 1960).
His hard work paid off as he graduated ahead of his class in high school. From high school he went to the Berlin institute of technology in 1930.He did his first experiments of testing liquid fuelled rocket engines while assisting Oberth Herman. He obtained his doctorate in physics from Berlin University with a thesis in rocket Engines while aged 22 in 1934.
Von Braun team of scientists was led by his teacher Oberth and they were instrumental in designing guided missiles and rockets that German used against Britain in the Second World War. He and his team’s efficiency and brilliance was based on their reliable dedication to tasks at hand, their talents and a first class education system in universities and high schools found in their first homeland; German. In addition to his passion for space exploration and rocketry, he had a passion for life. This was exhibited through all his communications and work. He was a communicator through various streams of patent applications, speeches, correspondence, conversations, reports, briefings, technical papers, press conferences, articles, testimonies and books. He was able to turn most if not all of his life into a reality starting from Germany and finally completing it in America (Swenson et al., 1998).
His closest confidants knew him as a near mythic figure that was larger than life and still fallible feet of clay mortal. He became the Director of NASA at age 24 for a record ten years as well as the technical head of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency at Redstone Arsenal. Thirteen years before these appointments he had been serving as the R&D Civilian chief of the German army. His career ended with two and half frustrating years at NASA as its long range planner before he got a stint at Maryland’s Fair Child’s industries which came to an abrupt end when he succumbed to his fight with cancer in 1977.
Whether Von Braun Should Be Considered a War Criminal and How He Was Treated Compared To Other War Criminals
Von Braun led the “Rocket team” that constructed the V-2 missiles for the Germans in World War 2.The V-2 immediately predeceased the rockets that were being used by USSR and USA in space exploration. Before the V-2 Rocket complex was captured by allied countries, Von Braun led the surrendering of his 120 associates to the American troops together with test vehicles and plans (Jarrett & Robert, 1964). After the Second World War, he sensationally claimed that his interest has always been in space flights and since he had no resources, he complied with the NAZI requirement to join them since resistance could have resulted into his killing. It’s while in the Hitler’s Nazi camp that he horned his skills and felt it was safe for him to surrender to the US Army after the war; who did not treat him as a prisoner of war but rather an asset they could use to develop their Space technology (Freeman & Ira, 1959). Since Von Braun was ready to serve the US upon his capture, it is a testimony that he did not strongly believe and support the NAZI war and political agenda. He just served them because of his interest in rocket technology and for fear that his refusal could have led to his death. It would thus have been quite cruel for the US army to treat him like other war criminals who willingly and strongly supported the NAZI. Since Von Braun’s interests were in tandem with America’s, there was a thin line between treating him as a war criminal and not treating him as one.
The Ethical and Moral Issues Surrounding his Surrender to the United States During World War II
When Dr.Wernher Margunus Von Braun joined the German Army he lost his moral integrity when he accepted an honorary officer’s commission to work for Hitler’s NAZI Party in 1944 that was fighting America his country. He accepted this job to help them launch their missiles that were not functioning as required. This is because Hitler had ordered the premature mass production of V-2 missiles in 1943 leading to their malfunctioning; where at least in every ten missile launches six failed in midflight or exploded on the launch pad. He therefore lost his integrity by being a member of third Reich which was connected with the underground forced labor, SS-run V-2 factory that had high mortality rates. It’s thus ironical that he later became USA’s perennial Scientist as well as patriot of the year (Jarrett & Robertson, 1964).
It also defeats logic that Von Braun conscious didn’t feel destructed when he was captured in 1944 by Gestapo Himmler’s secret police with 120 of his German Racketeers and transferred to the US in 1946 where he was placed on a life trial for political charges of treason. The fact that spies had heard him say that he was more interested in space exploration than developing weapons made him become an asset to the USA rather than a liability thus he could not be disposed. As much as he may have been treated as a prison of war his fate, would change since his services were badly needed. His interest in rocket technology coincided with America’s interest to develop their rocket technology. He seemed to be the only talent who could accomplish this.
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Analysts believe that the reason as to why Von Braun surrendered to the US Army rather than the Germans at the end of the war was partly motivated by money since the US were in a position to pay him better than the Germans. While this had both political and ethical undertones, he did not feel obliged to do the right thing. Politically, it was an act of treason against his country of origin; Germany and morally, his integrity was at stake for being driven by personal gain to go against his native country.
Instead of being killed he and his associates were sent to work for the US Army at Fort Bliss in Texas in 1945. This is because they had exceptional skills that were in high demand at that point in time. In 1950 they were moved to Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal where they constructed the Army’s ballistic missile. He was transferred to NASA in 1958 just after its inception where he was made Director at the Marshall Center. In 1969 the Saturn V Rocket a product of his prowess won the race to place man on the moon.
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The fact that he developed weapons of mass destruction while working for the Nazi was also an issue that brought his moral integrity to question. This is because, while he claimed that it was dangerous to resist the Nazi, the truth is he accepted their money so as to follow his dream of becoming a rocket scientist. Being a member of the Nazi party, he was privy to the fact that the weapons he was developing at Peenemunde were being manufactured by slave labor; something that also lowers his integrity. He is also reported to have told Hitler to give top priority to the V-2 Missile and as much as it was futile militarily, this doesn’t absolve him from lack of integrity since he knew Hitler’s agenda right from the beginning (Jarret, 1964).
Even after the war he didn’t show remorse for what he did but instead he brought in another political dimension by assisting America built on not just what he had done for German but went further to develop their space programs; thus making them more powerful than his native country.
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Where Space and Rocket Technology Might be Without Von Braun
Without Von Braun’s actions, his crystal clear technical ingenius, conclusive decisions, his perspectives and his relentless convincing tactics to people whether in public, politics or projects, it’s hard to imagine astronomy would have come this far; with landings on celestial bodies located in distant places, probes that scout the solar system or with its orbiting satellites. In addition, it’s hard to imagine there would be any form of sailing on new oceans with growth that is immeasurable in scientific knowledge.
Wernher Von Braun had a certain motto, “Propulsion is the heart of Astronauts” which he used to make a weapon system christened the mother of all rockets-the Aggregate 4(A4)- which got propelled after years of technological and cultural development work. It began in the 1920s and got a boost in the Second World War. Wernher Von Braun showed the world how it’s done. After the world had seen the complete A4 System, it became eager on catching up; resulting into a technical evolution that happened globally with a tremendous drive that had never been seen before. Within no time, total innovative transport systems in form of mighty rockets emerged ready to leave the earth. They were all initially designed for space exploration but were partly militarily used in the cold war (Freeman, 1959).
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Wernher Von Braun’s major achievement is seen in his charismatic leadership prowess supported by major scientific and technical research teams of major German Universities and institutes. His tutelage at the Peenemunde Research Center where he served as the technical director was important in establishing the technical prerequisite for the space program the world has today. These know how, prerequisites and concepts that started as new ideas ignited it all off; causing the USSR and the USA to come up with enormous industrial capacities within a short time that were able to sail on the new ocean. Within no time a number of other nations were following this road that had not been taken by them before.
Wernher Von Braun and his team’s scientific work gave the world a gift of a rocket system that was completely functioning. The world seized this opportunity immediately by rebuilding the weapons used in World War II and gained the potential of doing astronautics in the future.
Wernher Von Braun in conjunction with his team; christened the ‘Rocket scientists’, provided great service to: engineering and natural sciences, six successful landings made on the moon, and man’s scientific strive to the new worlds using the astronautics new technology. They thus established the foundation for astronautics of all generations to come (Debus, 1972).