Portal:Spaceflight/Selected biography/April 2008

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Wernher von Braun

Dr. Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr ('Baron') von Braun (March 23, 1912 – June 16, 1977). Wernher was the second son of a German nobleman and high official in the Weimar government (who resigned when the Nazis took power). He became one of the leading figures in the development of rocket technology in Germany and the United States. Wernher von Braun is sometimes said to be the preeminent rocket scientist of the 20th century.

As a German scientist, still in his 20's and early 30's, von Braun was pivotal in Germany's pre-war rocket development programme and was responsible for the design and realisation of the V-2 rocket during World War II. After the war, he and some of his rocket team were brought to the United States through the then-secret Operation Overcast. In 1955, ten years after entering the country, von Braun became a naturalised US citizen.

Von Braun worked on the American Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) programme before joining NASA, where he served as director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the chief architect of the Saturn V rocket, the superbooster that propelled the United States to the Moon. He is generally regarded as the father of the United States space programme, both for his technical and organisational skills, and for his public relations efforts on behalf of space flight. He received the 1975 National Medal of Science.