Educator Resources

Cold War: Letters to Wernher von Braun

Letters to Wernher von Braun

Background:

In the 1950s, anxiety in America rose to new heights when the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the Earth. The nation was falling behind in the Space Race to their Cold War adversary. What would it mean to national security if Russia controlled the atmosphere and beyond?

The reaction to Sputnik was quick and intense. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration swung into gear launching not only satellites but manned missions into orbit. First was the Mercury Project with tiny one-manned capsules strapped on top of Atlas rockets in early 1960s and then the Gemini Project with two astronauts attempting Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA or space-walks) and rendezvous and docking with other orbiting vehicles and then finally the three-manned Apollo missions to the moon.

The public was fascinated with the success of the space program and although many scientists and technicians worked tirelessly to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, there was one man that stood above the rest in the race into space: Dr. Wernher von Braun.

Director of NASA's Marshal Space Flight Center and chief architect of the Saturn V rocket, von Braun exemplified America's new infatuation and promotion of the study of science. Beginning his study of rocketry in his native Germany in 1930, only four years after American scientist Robert Goddard successfully launched the first liquid-fuel rocket; von Braun had been with the new science from its near-infancy to its climactic moon landing.

Offered below is a presentation dealing with the many letters written to Dr. von Braun during the exciting times of the space program of the 1960s and early 1970s. The letters come from a variety of sources: school-aged children, businessmen, teachers and others. An official reply from either NASA or von Braun is often associated with the letters. The admiration for Dr. von Braun and the dreams his accomplishments inpired are clearly in evidence in the letters yet a cloud of unpleasantness hangs over the rocket scientist's reputation that many people to this day choose to ignore. During World War II, he had worked for the Nazis constructing the V2 rocket that rained over London late in the war.

Presentation: Letters to Wehrner von Braun



Refer to CaptionDear Dr. von Braun.... View presentation of selected letters and replies.

If a teacher finds unique and effective ways to use these documents in their classroom and would like to share them with other teachers, please contact joel.walker@nara.gov.

Top