Their names and accents told who they were-- Dannenberg, Stuhlinger, Haeussermann, Grau, Fichtner, von Tisenhausen, Jacobi, Schlidt, Holderer, Dahm--German rocket scientists gathered in the shadow of the Saturn V moon rocket at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the world's largest rocket museum located in Huntsville, Alabama. They are the men, now in their 80's and 90's, who invented the Saturn rocket enabling Americans to walk on the moon. They were experts in guidance and control, ground testing, future projects, aero dynamics, propulsion, fabrication, quality control and systems engineering who gave birth to this great machine.
They were gathered, maybe for the last time, to sign a book entitled SATURN published by Apogee about man's greatest space machine, the Saturn V they conceived. There were enough Germans in the room to put a rocket on the pad. Proceeds from the books signed by the Von Braun rocket team members will be donated to SAVE THE SATURN, the first Saturn V rocket to be retired after the moon landing, exhibited at the Huntsville space museum. It served as the rocket team's "shop queen" used for critical acceptance test firings and other important pre-moon launch checkouts.
The Von Braun team worked tirelessly for decades building machines that left earth and transported men into space. The rocket team has often been thought of as 100 or more Germans who came to this country after WWII and set up shop in Huntsville, Alabama to continue working on rockets. Much credit has been given to Wernher von Braun for his visionary abilities to take this country on exciting space journeys, not to mention the only country to successfully land man on the moon six times. Von Braun was always quick to share the glory that was often heaped upon him, with the team, not only the German born members but also that rare breed of Americans who became the next generation of rocketeers.
In the 1960's the Von Braun rocket team had the only capability in the U.S. to conceive, design, develop, fabricate, test and launch an entirely new rocket system. The laboratories were the heart of the organization responsible for research, design, fabrication, testing, and quality control. Joining the Germans were hundreds of American engineers who were on the fast track learning curve of Rocketry 101. Most lab directors had been with Von Braun for years but some of the new breed of American rocketeers filled deputy and senior positions.
The 1957 launch of Sputnik propelled the growing contest between the U.S. and Soviet Union into a vast new theater, outer space. The big blow to American pride, and a shock to American security, came in April 1961 when the Russians put their first cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, into orbit in a capsule weighing over 10,000 pounds. But exploring space was a quantum leap upward from developing intercontintial ballistic missiles (ICBM). Space exploration and manned spacecraft required larger payloads, which required larger rockets. The nation's leaders realized that the best talent for developing larger rockets resided with the U.S. Army's Army Ballistic Missile Agency and it's development team lead by Wernher von Braun at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.
America 's interest in space exploration was growing by the month because of the Soviet Union's successes. The new president, John F. Kennedy, realized the need for a dramatic program that would establish American supremacy in the space race. In May 1961, President Kennedy put forth the goal of, "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth, before the end of the decade."
Kennedy's electrifying announcement gave rise to the Saturn program. At the time of Kennedy's speech, Von Braun's team who had been transferred from the U.S. Army to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, had been in operation less then a year. But the next five years would see phenomenal growth at Marshall in terms of budget, personnel and national prestige.
The Saturn program made the Von Braun team and the Marshall Space Flight Center familiar to millions of Americans. More then anything else, the Saturn program put Marshall and Huntsville Alabama on the map. Throughout the 1960's, it was Marshall's major program, consuming the major portion of its resources, employing the vast majority of its people, and accounting for the lion's share of it's budget. Few who were not a part of the program understand the magnitude of the changes Saturn brought to manned space flight in the U.S. and indeed, to the world.
The men and women who were the core of the Von Braun rocket team--Germans and Americans--signed this book with pride and hope for the future of American's human space flight program.
Ed Buckbee head the Save The Saturn Committee and is a Former Director US Space & Rocket Center
NOTE: The views of this article are the author's and do not reflect the policies of the National Space Society.
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