Photo of Wernher Von Braun

Wernher Von Braun

  • National Medal of Science
  • Engineering

For his work in making the liquid-fuel rocket a practical launch vehicle and for individual contributions to a series of advanced space vehicles, culminating in the Saturn series that made the Apollo program possible.

Unlike most Lutheran boys, Wernher von Braun wasn’t given a watch or pair of pants for his confirmation. Instead, his mother bought him a telescope, nurturing a fascination with space exploration that began with science fiction books by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

“I knew how Columbus had felt,” he recalled.

In 1932, von Braun joined the German army, eventually leading the team that developed V-2 ballistic missiles for the Nazis during World War II.

The 46-foot-long V-2 flew more than 3,500 miles per hour, delivering a fatal blow to targets 500 miles away.

In 1945, however, von Braun feared he was on the wrong side of history.

After the Allies seized the German rocket complex, von Braun – along with hundreds of other German scientists – gained employment in America through Operation Paperclip.

After relocation, the former card-carrying Nazi did his new nation proud, designing the Saturn V launch vehicle that powered the 1969 lunar landing.