Von Braun, l'ex-nazi devenu américain : du V2 au programme Apollo

 

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Sur le même sujetOne of the mainstays of the Cold War was the employment on both sides of the Iron Curtain of massive numbers of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles more commonly called ICBMs for short. Upon notification at the push of a button, a weapon can be launched utilizing rocket technology to propel a potentially destructive warhead on a one way trip anywhere on the globe to deliver a destructive message upon the enemy. The threat of nuclear destruction from the heavens was the stuff of nightmares but yet an ever present danger in throughout the years of the Cold War. Each side was always trying to best the other. Rocketry has become a weapon of war on a scale never seen before capable of not only breaching the outer perimeters of our atmosphere but also in propelling weaponry at speeds inconceivable years before at such great distances that detection or interception is difficult. The development of the ICBM is derived of technology envisioned decades earlier as the brainchild of one man. His name was Wernher von Braun.Born Wernher Magnus Maximilian, Freiherr von Braun in Wirsitz, in the province of Posen at the time part of the German Empire on 23 March 1912, Wernher was the second of three sons born to a Magnus Freiherr von Braun and Emmy von Quistorp. He was born into an aristocratic family thus inheriting the title of Freiherr or 'Baron' and he could trace his family heritage to medieval European royalty as a descendant of Phillip III of France, Valdemar I of Denmark, Robert III of Scotland, Edward III of England, Mieszko I of Poland and ultimately Charlemagne. In his early years von Braun developed a passion for astronomy. Following the signing of the armistice and the end of the First World War, Wirsitz was transferred from Germany to Poland and the von Braun family moved to Germany settling in Berlin. It was here that he had his initial encounters with rocketry when he at the age of 12 was inspired by the speed records set by Max Valier and Fritz von Opel in rocket propelled cars. After blowing up a weapon to which he had attached fireworks he was arrested only to be released shortly thereafter.An avid amateur musician, he learned to play both Beethoven and Bach from memory. By 1925, he was enrolled in a boarding school at Ettersburg Castle near Weimar. With his passion for space travel and rocketry fuelling his young mind, he acquired an influential work on the subject the book Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen or By Rocket into Interplanetary Space written by Hermann Oberth a leading rocket pioneer. After being transferred to Hermann-Lietz-Internat, another boarding school located on the island of Spiekeroog; von Braun applying himself to the studies of physics and mathematics determined to pursue his interest in rocket engineering.By 1930, he was attending the Technische Hochschule Berlin or 'Berlin Institute of Technology' where he became a member of the Verein für Raumschiffahrt 'Spaceflight Society'. He obtained a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Institute in 1932. From his early exposure to rocket sciences he developed the conclusion that rocket science was not advanced enough to support space exploration and would require more aspects of science than were currently applied to the field. He enrolled in the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin for post graduate studies in the fields of physics, chemistry and astronomy where he would receive a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Physics in 1934. He received encouragement for his studies from the high altitude balloon pioneer Auguste Piccard.Coinciding with his developing interests in rocket science, the situation in Germany has been shaped in years of turmoil and political upheaval. After the end of the First World War and the abdication of the German monarchy, the Weimar Republic had been instated with a liberal democracy. President of the Weimar Republic Paul von Hindenburg, a former Prussian General Field Marshal during the First World War initiated dictatorial emergency powers and reinstated the position of Chancellor of Germany by 1930. Germany would see several Chancellors in Heinrich Brüning, Franz von Papen and Kurt von Schleicher before finally Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor with the ascent of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or National Socialist German Workers Party commonly abbreviated as NSDAP or Nazi Party in 1933. With his focus on his doctoral studies, von Braun seemed for the most part unaware of the changes sweeping across Germany at the time. As a German born to an aristocratic family, he was patriotic towards his country but roketry was his main foccus. On 12 November 1937 he applied for membership in the Nazi Party and was assigned the membership number 5,738,692.