UAH Archivist reveals how Von Braun turned Huntsville into the “Rocket City”

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Wernher von Braun has one of the most recognizable names in the field of US Space research and rocketry. 

But how much do you actually know about this famous figure?

First, he’s commonly referred to as “Von Brawn” but its actually pronounced  “Von Brown”. 

Next, Von Braun isn’t American. He’s German…An Engineer and rocket expert for the German army during WWII.. who, along with his “V-2 rocket team” surrendered himself to the US after the war, admitting his role in the facilitation of German military attacks. 

He eventually became technical director of the U.S. Army Ordnance Guided Missile Project in Alabama, leading a group of German scientists who made up “Operation Paperclip”.

Von Braun was instrumental in the first successful launch of a satellite in the US.  

Wernher Von Braun once said, “A project like firing a satellite into orbit is only possible if there’s splendid teamwork all the way through.” 

We met up with Archivist, Drew Adan, who gave us a deeper look at this controversial historical figure. 

Adan says, ”He was the Director of Marshall Space Flight Center, the first director. I think what made Von Braun so unique and remembered to this day was that he really emphasized and understood the importance of the popularization of space travel.”

Von Braun brought a new perspective to space travel, proposing ideas to get the american people emotionally invested in the space program.”

Adan says, “He did that through his partnership with Disney. He appeared on television speaking about space travel in layman’s terms and kind of presenting it in a way that might be exciting to the population…thinking forward to the possibilities as to what man’s space flight might entail.”

Even going as far as getting two of the time’s most notable sports figures Bear Bryant- and rival coach- Shug Jordan to pitch in!

“If you wanna get through to Alabamians you need to talk college football. And he had both of those coaches appear on a commercial trying to raise funding for the Space and Rocket Center,” says Adan. 

Adan gives us a behind the scenes look at artifacts housed at UAH– whose expansion into research, science and engineering can be accredited to Von Braun himself. 

Adan says “In 1961, Von Braun approached the Alabama legislature to ask for money for the founding of UAH specifically the Research Institute. He recognized that there was a need for ‘strong, capable, educated people’ to meet the staffing needs of the emerging aerospace industry in Huntsville at Redstone Arsenal and Marshall Space Flight Center.”

“That tradition has continued at UAH. We still offer undergraduate and graduate classes in rocketry and aerospace sciences to meet the needs of Huntsville’s aerospace industry.” 

Although landing a man on the moon was a national achievement, it was an international effort. Hands from all over, working together and constructing a future that’s out of this world. 

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