History of Rocketry Chapter 6

By Cliff Lethbridge

German Rocket Hardware And Documents Are Transported To The U.S.

The exodus of the von Braun team from Peenemunde prior to the end of the war had little or no effect on rocket production at the Mittelwerk facility. In fact, production of V-1 and V-2 missiles continued there until an Allied attack on April 10, 1945.

Upon that attack, about 4,500 German factory workers fled to surrounding villages. Allied forces ultimately captured the Mittelwerk facility intact, with partially completed missiles still on the assembly line and in various states of fabrication in warehouses.

U.S. forces quickly implemented a plan to transport this hardware out of the factory, primarily because the Soviet Union had been granted jurisdiction over the area as a condition of the Yalta agreement.

“Special Mission V-2” was initiated and U.S. troops were instructed to remove all the rocket hardware they could get their hands on. Under the direction of the 144th Motor Vehicle Assembly Company, U.S. troops were aided by local workers and railway engineers to transport the hardware by railway from Nordhausen to Antwerp.

The first trainload of hardware departed Nordhausen on May 22, 1945 and the last departed on May 31, 1945. This was just one day before Soviet forces were expected to arrive to assume jurisdiction of the area.

A total of 341 railway cars were loaded, containing enough hardware to fabricate about 100 V-2 missiles. The hardware was transferred to Liberty Ships at the port of Antwerp and shipped to New Orleans, then transported to New Mexico.

Concurrent with the transfer of hardware was the search for and transfer of vital documents. Wernher von Braun knew he couldn’t carry all of the vital documents with him upon surrendering to U.S. forces, so he had implemented a vital plan before doing so.

These documents contained detailed evaluations of German rocketry research dating from 1932 to 1945. Two von Braun associates had been ordered to hide these documents in an abandoned mine or some similar suitable place. A vast archive of documents were indeed hidden in a tunnel near the town of Dorten at the northern edge of the Harz Mountains.

A search for these documents by U.S. troops aided by German scientists began in earnest on April 30, 1945. About 14 tons of documents were recovered from this tunnel on May 21, 1945.

German Rocket Scientists Are Adopted By The U.S. Army

Colonel Holger N. Toftoy, at the time the chief of the Ordnance Technical Intelligence team in Paris, commanded the transfer of rocket hardware and documents to the U.S. Toftoy was subsequently named chief of the Rocket Branch in the Research and Development Division of Army Ordnance.

Toftoy recommended to his superiors that the von Braun group as well as its hardware and paperwork were vital to U.S. interests and should be transferred to the U.S. as well. On July 23, 1945 Toftoy met with von Braun. In August, 1945 von Braun and his associates were offered one-year contracts with the U.S. Army.

The effort to secure the German team was at first called Operation Overcast, but was redesignated Operation Paperclip. This accounts for the fact that the von Braun team transferred to the U.S. has become popularly known was the Paperclip Scientists.

Members of the von Braun team accepting this offer would be taken to the U.S. in the custody of the Army Ordnance Corps. Wernher von Braun referred to his team members that accepted the offer as “prisoners of peace”.

The deal was offered to lead scientists and engineers only. Family members were to be left behind under the provision of the U.S. Army, with associated costs deducted from the wages paid to the scientists. Of 127 scientists offered this deal, all accepted.

The first group of German scientists, numbering seven including Wernher von Braun, arrived at Fort Strong, Boston on September 29, 1945. The Army quickly transported von Braun to Washington to engage in a series of meetings with military leaders.

The six remaining scientists, Erich W. Neubert, Theodor A. Poppel, August Schultze, Eberhard Rees, Wilhelm Jungert and Walter Schwidetzky were taken to the Aberdeen Proving Ground to begin reviewing tons of German documents that had been transported there.

All of the scientists, including von Braun, were transferred to Fort Bliss, Texas where the Army established a guided missile proving ground. The main body of Germans arrived at Fort Bliss by December, 1945 with a total number of about 100 German scientists stationed there by February, 1946.

Other Nations Obtain German Rocket Expertise As Well

Although the U.S. received the lion’s share of knowledgeable German rocket scientists, other nations secured German scientists of their own. Primarily, the Soviet Union reaped some benefits from these scientists.

Upon assuming jurisdiction of the Mittelwerk plant in June, 1945 Soviet forces quickly began rounding up and interrogating German rocket personnel. About 3,500 people were secured, but these were generally more unskilled lower echelon workers of limited value.

About 5,000 people involved in the German rocket industry had already fled the Mittelwerk area with von Braun before the end of the war, and yet another 1,000 had fled the area after the Soviets assumed jurisdiction. This left the Soviets with slim pickings.

The best Soviet catch was principal German scientist Helmut Grottrup, who signed a voluntary work contract with the Red Army similar to those signed by the von Braun team. Grottrup was placed in charge of a resurrected rocket production facility at Mittelwerk, where he also conducted research activities under Soviet oversight.

Grottrup stayed at the Mittelwerk plant until October, 1946 when he and about 200 German associates were relocated without advanced notice to Russia. There, they participated in limited rocket development activities primarily involving the application of V-2 rocket technology. Advanced rocketry research underway in the Soviet Union was kept secret from those German scientists relocated there.

The British and French also made limited use of German scientists after the war, but neither nation had the resources to pursue ballistic missile programs. With the help of German scientists, the British were able to launch two V-2 missiles from a launch site at Cuxhaven out over the North Sea. This was called Project Backfire.

Army Air Corps Follows Up On German V-1 Buzz Bomb Concept

The Army Air Corps developed its JB-1 guided bomb beginning in 1944. The JB-1 design was based largely upon the analysis of German V-1 buzz bombs recovered during the war. Test launches of the JB-1 from both the air and from the ground proved largely unsuccessful.

A follow-up guided bomb was called the JB-2, nicknamed the Loon. The JB-2 was nearly identical to the German V-1 buzz bomb both in design and appearance, and several hundred were manufactured before the end of the war. The JB-2 had been destined for use against Japan, but this never happened.

The JB-2 did, however, yield valuable research data. Follow-up vehicles included the JB-4 and JB-10, all based upon the principles of the German V-1 buzz bomb. All V-1 based programs were abandoned by the Army Air Corps in 1946.

Army Air Corps Rejects Development Of Ballistic Missiles

The Army Air Corps expressed an interest in innovative missile designs not long after the close of World War II. In fact, Army Air Corps development studies resulted in the breakthrough MX-774 ballistic test missile, the great-grandfather of the modern Atlas rocket.

But, ballistic missile research sponsored by the Army Air Corps waned not long afterward. The Pentagon issued an opinion called “Requirements for Guided Missiles” in June, 1947. This killed the MX-774 program and directed the Army Air Corps to develop guided winged missiles instead of ballistic missiles.

Military leaders felt it was impractical for ballistic missiles to carry large, heavy weapons over distances of 5,000 to 7,000 miles. This was far beyond the capability of a German V-2 type ballistic missile. It was not, however, beyond the capability of guided winged missiles based on traditional aircraft technology.

The initial rejection of ballistic missile weapons by the Army Air Corps was continued after the establishment of the Air Force in September, 1947. Development of guided winged missiles, however, remained vigorous, and resulted in vehicles such as Matador, Mace, Snark and Navaho.

Army Ordnance Establishes Vigorous Postwar V-2 Research Program

Unlike the Army Air Corps, Army Ordnance already possessed German V-2 hardware captured during the war and had contracted the services of lead German rocket scientists. The immediate goal was to use this hardware to support high-altitude research, weapons development and assist U.S. forces in becoming more accustomed to the handling and performance of advanced ballistic missile weapons.

The V-2 research program moved fairly quickly, with flights scheduled at the White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico. The first static engine test firing of a German V-2 on U.S. soil occurred on March 14, 1946. The missile used for this engine test became the first German V-2 launched in the U.S. on April 16, 1946. The U.S. V-2 series of launches concluded in 1952.

Some of the launches employed V-2 missiles equipped with scientific instrumentation designed to study the upper atmosphere. These types of V-2 launches were managed by the V-2 Upper Atmosphere Research Panel, which was established in January, 1947 and evolved into the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel in March, 1948.

A number of scientific objectives were met, including measurement of the ionosphere, solar radiation, cosmic radiation, micrometeorites and sky brightness. Biological research and Earth photography were also conducted.

Early V-2 research employed missiles entirely of German design, but U.S. performance enhancements were introduced as early as 1947. These included the lengthening of the V-2 by about five feet, resulting in an increase in available payload space from 16 cubic feet to 80 cubic feet.

Another important modification was the addition of a second stage. Eight V-2 missiles were outfitted with Without Any Control (WAC) Corporal rockets as a second stage, with the resulting vehicle called Bumper-Wac. These were used to test stage separation under a variety of operational conditions.

The first five Bumper-Wac rockets were launched from White Sands, New Mexico where achieving the highest altitude possible was the goal. On February 24, 1949 the second stage of Bumper #5, the fifth rocket launched in the Bumper-Wac series, became the first man-made object placed in space.

Bumper-Wac tests moved to the virgin Long Range Proving Ground at Cape Canaveral in 1950, where the rockets were intended to test rocket staging at a near horizontal flight. These tests required a greater flight range than was available at White Sands.

Bumper #8 became the first rocket launched from Cape Canaveral on July 24, 1950. This was followed by the launch of Bumper #7 on July 29, 1950 which became the second rocket launched from the Cape.

V-2 missiles also supported Navy research. During Operation Sandy, a fully fueled V-2 was launched from the deck of the aircraft carrier Midway on September 6, 1947. The missile exploded at an altitude of 5,000 feet. This led to additional tests to assess the risk of at-sea missile launches.

Operation Pushover was conducted in 1948. In these tests, two fully fueled V-2 missiles were intentionally exploded on mock decks built to simulate at-sea launch conditions. Damage caused by these explosions was staggering, and results from these tests proved important in steering the Navy toward the development of solid-fueled rather than liquid-fueled ballistic missiles for launch at sea.

Army And Navy Develop New Research Rockets As V-2 Supply Dwindles

The Army knew its supply of V-2 rockets would eventually run out, so a number of other ballistic missiles were designed to augment or replace the V-2 for the purpose of carrying our certain research objectives.

Some were designed as a part of Project Hermes, a joint venture of the Army and General Electric. A number of V-2 scientific launches, including the entire Bumper-Wac series, were conducted under Project Hermes.

The first of the new vehicles was called the Hermes A1, a small rocket similar in design to the German Wasserfall surface-to-air missile. The Hermes A1 was powered by an engine that burned a combination of liquid oxygen and alcohol, and was capable of a maximum altitude of 15 miles, maximum range of 40 miles and maximum speed of 1,850 m.p.h.

The Hermes A2 was never built, but would have employed a solid-fueled engine. More powerful liquid-fueled follow-ups to the Hermes A1 included the Hermes 3A and Hermes 3B, which were intended to carry a 1,000-pound payload a distance of 150 miles. Development of these rockets was stepped up in 1951 as a result of the Korean War, but only a few vehicles were built and tested.

Hermes 3A and Hermes 3B research did, however, yield a stable rocket guidance platform and radio guidance system that were applied to other programs. A relatively powerful engine was also developed that could achieve a thrust of between 18,000 and 23,000 pounds.

Project Hermes gave the von Braun team the resources it needed to design more advanced weapons, like the Hermes II. This was a ramjet-powered second stage designed to be mated to a V-2 first stage. It employed a complex engine design, and a full-scale version of the ramjet stage was actually test fired from a V-2.

General Electric designed the Hermes C, a large three-stage rocket powered by a six-booster first stage, a one-booster second stage and a glider-type third stage. The Hermes C had a desired range of 2,000 miles but was never built.

The Hermes C1 was designed as a single-stage booster capable of carrying a 500-pound payload a distance of 500 miles. Intended to be a more advanced, streamlined version of the V-2, the Hermes C1 somewhat resembled what would eventually be introduced as the Redstone.

The Hermes program was canceled in December, 1952 as the Army continued to consolidate and refine its ballistic missile research and development activities at the Redstone Arsenal.

The Navy also conducted high-altitude research following World War II. Some of these experiments were flown aboard V-2 rockets in cooperation with the Army. But, the V-2 tumbled after its engine shut down, and the Navy required a more stable platform from which to conduct research on the upper atmosphere.

Toward this end, the Navy developed the Aerobee rocket in 1946. It was a modified version of the Army Wac Corporal and was continually modified and improved for decades afterward. Also in 1946, the Navy developed the Viking rocket, first called Neptune. Based largely upon the V-2, the Viking succeeded in placing an object in space and became the basis of the Vanguard rocket.

Sounding rockets are intended to study the temperature, pressure, density, composition, structure and movement within the upper atmosphere, typically to altitudes of up to 250 miles but sometimes much higher.

A plethora of sounding rockets were developed by all branches of service following World War II, which were also modified to conduct communications and photographic research.

Army Ballistic Missile Research Moves To The Redstone Arsenal

Army ballistic missile research activities outgrew the facilities at Fort Bliss, Texas by the late 1940’s. A search was made to select a more suitable site. The Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama was selected. It featured ample electricity from the Tennessee Valley Authority and convenient transportation access to the new Long Range Proving Ground at Cape Canaveral.

The transfer from Fort Bliss to the Redstone Arsenal was approved on October 28, 1949 and the move, which included the entire von Braun design team, was completed between April and November, 1950. About 500 military personnel, 130 Germans, 120 civil servants and several hundred employees of General Electric made the move to Huntsville.

The Redstone organization was designated the Ordnance Guidance Missile Center and was initially commanded by Major James P. Hamill, who had worked in association with the von Braun team since activities at Fort Bliss commenced following World War II. The Redstone Arsenal itself was commanded by Brigadier General Thomas Vincent.

Genesis Of U.S. Space Program Begins At Redstone Arsenal

Upon the outbreak of the Korean War in June, 1950 the Army design team at the Redstone Arsenal was given the responsibility of designing a ballistic missile capable of achieving a range of 500 miles. After unofficially being called Ursa, then Major, the missile was named Redstone in honor of the Redstone Arsenal on April 8, 1952.

Development of the Redstone ushered in the most important period of rocket development in U.S. history, with Redstone-based rockets ultimately assuming the duty of carrying both the first U.S. satellite and first U.S. astronaut into space.

Although great scientific accomplishments were associated with the Redstone missile, development of vehicles at the Redstone arsenal were driven by military concerns, especially a fear that the Soviet Union had succeeded in the development of advanced, long-range ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Army And Navy Undertake Joint Missile Development Program

On September 13, 1955 a committee headed by James R. Killian, Jr., the advisor on science and technology to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, recommended that the Army and Navy cooperate on the development of an intermediate-range ballistic missile. The missile would be launched on land by the Army and at sea by the Navy, and have a desired range of 1,500 miles.

On November 8, 1955 Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson gave his approval for the formation of the Joint Army-Navy Ballistic Missile Committee to develop this missile. The Navy half of this committee was established as the Special Projects Office on November 17, 1955. The Special Projects Office was commanded by Rear Admiral William F. Raborn.

The Army half of this committee was established as the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) on February 1, 1956. ABMA assumed control of work previously conducted by the Guided Missile Development Division at Redstone Arsenal, which included the von Braun team. ABMA was commanded by Major General John B. Medaris. The joint Army-Navy missile was named Jupiter.

Although Army-Navy cooperation on the Jupiter missile would not last, the Jupiter program led directly to the launch of the first U.S. satellite, Explorer I, on January 31, 1958. Explorer I was launched aboard a Juno I rocket, a four-stage Redstone adapted from a Jupiter C rocket developed to support high-altitude testing of Jupiter missile components.

The resulting Jupiter missile itself became the free world’s first intermediate-range ballistic missile. Jupiter missiles were also employed as the first stage of the Juno II rocket. ABMA designed follow-up rocket concepts through Juno V. The Juno V concept closely resembled the Saturn I, a vital vehicle in the NASA Apollo program.

Vigorous research and development at ABMA also allowed the von Braun team to propose heavy lift vehicle concepts and fanciful manned space ventures, including a space station and lunar outpost. While many of these ideas were impractical, ABMA heavy lift vehicle research led directly to the development of the Saturn V rocket which carried men to the Moon.

Atomic Energy Commission Spurs Ballistic Missile Advances

In September, 1956 the Atomic Energy Commission stated that by 1965 at the latest, and probably as early as 1963, small and lightweight high-yield nuclear warheads suitable for long-range ballistic missiles would be available.

This revelation signaled the start of a vigorous effort on the part of all branches of service to develop long-range ballistic missiles. The Army and Navy development of ballistic missiles was already well underway, but now even the Air Force recognized the need to develop ballistic missiles of their own.

Army Stripped Of Long-Range Ballistic Missiles

On November 26, 1956 Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson issued a “roles and missions” memorandum popularly referred to as the “Wilson Memorandum” to aid in the orderly development of ballistic missile weapons among the branches of service.

The Wilson Memorandum stripped the Army of all ballistic missiles with a range of greater than 200 miles. The logic behind this decision was simple. The Army needed battlefield artillery, not long-range missiles. Long-range missile development was assigned to the Air Force.

This allowed the Army to deploy the Redstone missile, which had a range of 200 miles. The Jupiter missile, however, was reassigned to the Air Force since it had a design range of 1,500 miles. The Army would develop and build the missile as a contractor for the Air Force, but would not be able to deploy it.

The Wilson Memorandum alienated many dedicated workers at ABMA, whose ballistic missile research dated back to the close of World War II. It also served to create a sense of inter-service rivalry between the Army and the Air Force, which some observers considered to be unhealthy.

Although the Wilson Memorandum was rescinded several years later, allowing the Army to develop longer range ballistic missiles like Pershing I, Pershing IA and Pershing II, it deflated attempts of ABMA and the von Braun team to develop the long-range missiles and space vehicles they desired.

Navy Abandons Jupiter To Pursue Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles

In March, 1956 the Navy was given permission from the Joint Army-Navy Ballistic Missile Committee to undertake both surface and sub-surface launched ballistic missile research independent of that associated with the Jupiter missile program.

Also in March, 1956 the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) Ballistic Missile Committee authorized the Navy to develop powerful new solid-fueled rocket motors suitable for the launching of surface or submarine-launched ballistic missiles. This research was considered groundbreaking at the time, and there was great uncertainty about where this research would lead.

In July, 1956 the OSD Scientific Advisory Committee recommended that the Navy focus its sole attention on the development of solid-fueled ballistic missiles, and abandon the Jupiter program entirely.

Research conducted during the course of the Jupiter development program determined that handling volatile fuels like liquid oxygen during uncertain conditions at sea was much too dangerous, and that an accident would likely cause catastrophic damage to the vessel from which the Jupiter launches were intended to be launched.

The Atomic Energy Commission had already stated that potent nuclear weapons could be delivered by relatively small ballistic missiles, so all the Navy needed was a suitable missile design featuring a safer solid-fueled motor.

On October 23, 1956 the OSD Scientific Advisory Committee recommended that a Navy solid-fueled missile be given equal priority with the Jupiter missile, and a vigorous development effort resulted. The goal was to have a missile deployed by 1963.

The Navy officially pulled out of the Jupiter program on December 8, 1956. The Joint Army-Navy Ballistic Missile Committee was dissolved on December 18, 1956. Although ABMA remained intact, the Navy formed the Navy Ballistic Missile Committee to oversee the development of solid-fueled ballistic missiles. Rear Admiral William F. Raborn continued to command this effort.

The joint Army-Navy effort was by no means fruitless. A guidance platform designed for Jupiter was directly applied to the new Navy program, as was a wealth of technical data. The Jupiter guidance platform was modified to allow for the motion of a ship through the development of a Navy Ship Inertial Navigation System (SINS).

Timing of the Navy was critical, and beneficial. In October, 1957 the Atomic Energy Commission announced that small, high-yield nuclear weapons would be available by 1960, as much as five years ahead of schedule. This revelation not only provided confidence to the Navy effort, it also spurred a dramatic increase of ballistic missile research in general.

In addition, solid-fueled rocket technology eventually caught up with the Navy, providing them with the solid-fueled thrust necessary to successfully launch a long-range ballistic missile at sea.

These factors were combined to facilitate the development of Polaris, designed to be launched from ships or submarines. The ship-launched option was quickly abandoned in favor of the more secure stealth characteristics of submarines, and the Polaris missile was ready for deployment by 1960, three years ahead of schedule.

Polaris gave way to Poseidon, Trident I and then Trident II, with submarine-launched ballistic missiles currently providing the backbone of the U.S. nuclear defense capability.

Air Force Takes High Ground In Ballistic Missile Development

Although the Air Force had chosen specifically not to pursue the development of ballistic missiles following World War II, the advent of small, high-yield nuclear weapons and an ever-increasing Soviet threat facilitated the most massive peacetime weapons development program in U.S. history.

The MX-774 ballistic missile research program funded by the Army Air Corps and canceled in 1947 did provide technical information that would prove fruitful later. In December, 1952 the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board set up a committee to review the Air Force position on the delivery of nuclear weapons.

The committee was headed by Professor Clark B. Millikan. Guided winged missiles were still favored, and a move toward the development of long-range ballistic missiles was slow. It was generally believed that the development of these ballistic missiles would take at least ten years, while more traditional guided pilotless bombers were already being tested.

In April, 1953 Trevor Gardner, Special Assistant for Research and Development to Air Force Secretary Harold E. Talbott, requested a review on exactly how long the Air Force development of long-range ballistic missiles would take.

A major review of existing programs and technology was undertaken. Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson established the Strategic Missiles Evaluation Committee, nicknamed the “Teapot Committee”, to further evaluate Air Force nuclear weapons programs. The committee began its work in the fall of 1953.

In February, 1954 the Teapot Committee issued a report to Trevor Gardner which included independent scientific research conducted by the Rand Corporation on the status of nuclear weapons development. The report concluded that the Air Force should embark on a vigorous long-range ballistic missile development program, since a viable weapons program could be deployed as early as 1960.

Gardner then recommended that the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) be given authority over the development of long-range ballistic missiles. ARDC vice-commander Major General James McCormack was promoted to commander of ARDC. Brigadier General Bernard A. Schriever of the Air Staff was placed directly under McCormack in charge of project direction and industry relations.

Schriever, now considered to be the father of the U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), assumed his position on June 1, 1954. Since established aircraft contractors were already based in California, Schriever set up the ARDC Western Development Division there on July 15, 1954.

Procurement support for the ARDC was handled by a Special Projects Office within the Air Materiel Command at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The Ramo-Woolridge Corporation, named after Simon Ramo and Dean Woolridge, was established to provide technical advice to ARDC.

Ramo-Woolridge quickly began offering technical advice to the Air Force Strategic Missiles Evaluation Committee and then the Atlas Scientific Evaluation Committee, which decided to develop an ICBM based upon concepts tested during the short-lived MX-774 program. Ramo-Woolridge was given overall technical direction of the Atlas program by September, 1954.

Although Ramo-Woolridge was forbidden by law to secure lucrative missile development contracts from the U.S. military, the company did provide vital technical direction for the Air Force at a critical time.

The ARDC Western Development Division was redesignated the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division (AFBMD) in June, 1957. By this time, the foundation was securely laid for long-range ballistic missile programs like the Thor intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) and ICBM programs like Atlas, Titan I, Titan II and Minuteman.

It should be noted that the Air Force made extensive use of technical data refined by the Army-sponsored design team headed by Wernher von Braun. It is not well known that some German scientists were transferred from Army programs to Air Force programs in support of the Air Force ballistic missile development efforts.

As was the case with missiles designed by the Army, Air Force missiles also became instrumental in the U.S. space program. The Thor-based Delta rocket family remains in use today, as do space launch variants of the Atlas, Titan and Minuteman.

Soviet Missile Threat Looms On The Horizon

While the Soviet Union suffered somewhat of an embarrassment as U.S. forces removed the lion’s share of German V-2 hardware from the Mittelwerk plant literally under their noses, the Soviets did not conclude World War II empty handed.

While most of the German scientists and hardware were gone, the Soviets were able to secure tons of equipment and key German scientists Helmut Grottrup, Erich Putze and Werner Baum. These scientists were experts in guidance, production and propulsion, respectively. The Soviets also secured hundreds of lower echelon workers.

Most importantly, the Soviet Union already possessed its own experts in rocketry, an equation that was lacking in the U.S. These scientists included A.G. Kostikov, inventor of the World War II Katyusha rocket, and Sergei P. Korolev, considered to be the father of modern Soviet rocketry.

Following World War II, the Soviets supervised renewed V-2 production at the Mittelwerk plant, which continued well into 1946. The Soviets also used V-2 rockets for initial post-war rocketry research. On October 22, 1946 all of the German scientists working for the Soviets were transported without warning by truck and train to Russia.

A German Rocket Collective was soon established outside Moscow. There, the Germans went to work refining and improving the V-2 to create a similar, yet new, rocket. On March 15, 1947 a State Commission was formed to study the feasibility of producing long-range ballistic missiles.

The State Commission recommended that the first logical step was an improved version of the V-2, which was already under development at the German Rocket Collective. The improved V-2 was first launched from Kazakhstan on October 30, 1947 and achieved a range of 200 miles. The improved V-2 was followed by the Pobeda, a mobile ballistic missile with an impressive range of 500 miles.

>From that point on, German participation in the Soviet missile program declined rapidly. Most of the German scientists and workers were repatriated to Germany by the early 1950’s. The last to be repatriated was lead scientist Helmut Grottrup, who returned to West Germany in November, 1953.

Many of the Germans were interrogated by U.S. intelligence, but the Soviets were very careful to restrict access of the Germans to only the missile programs they were directly involved in. In fact, next to no insight was given to the U.S. by the repatriated Germans into the state of Soviet rocketry.

It was not well known in the U.S. exactly how advanced the Soviet missile threat actually was. Soviet ballistic missile research progressed quickly after World War II, and was in fact by the late 1950’s dangerously ahead of the U.S.

The Soviet advantage over the U.S. was based on two major factors. First, the Soviet military settled on the development of ballistic missiles from the early days after World War II, and wasted no effort designing guided winged missiles which ultimately proved for the U.S. to be ineffective in light of advances in improved interceptor aircraft and anti-aircraft defenses.

Simply stated, the Soviets had about a decade’s head-start over the U.S. in the development of ballistic missile weapons. In addition, the Soviets were undeterred by the fact that nuclear weapons payloads were heavy and bulky. They simply developed huge rockets that could carry these heavy payloads.

With these advantages, the Soviet Union achieved IRBM range in April, 1956 and ICBM range in August, 1957. These capabilities could have proved fatal for the U.S. in wartime, as similar capabilities in the U.S. were at about two years behind the Soviets.

Thankfully, peace prevailed, and by the time the Soviet Union demonstrated its superior missile capability by launching the world’s first satellite on October 4, 1957 and the first man into space on April 12, 1961 the U.S. was well on its way to refining its own ballistic missile capabilities.

National Aeronautics And Space Administration Formed

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was activated in October, 1958. NASA was formed to assure that the peaceful exploration of space by the U.S. would be conducted by a civilian, not military, organization.

NASA immediately contracted with the U.S. military and military contractors to supply the rockets necessary to fulfill its objective of launching civilian satellites and spacecraft. This allowed the military to play an important support role in scientific programs, like the placement of astronauts in space, that no one branch of service could have done on its own.

The primary NASA launch vehicles, including Redstone, Juno, Delta, Atlas, Titan and Saturn were all adapted directly from military programs. NASA also inherited a number of important assets from the military. These included the Army-sponsored Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency design team headed by Wernher von Braun, whose expertise was vital to NASA.

Indeed, cooperation between NASA and the military continued into the Space Shuttle program. Without a wealth of funding from the Air Force, it is possible that the Space Shuttle fleet might not have been completed at all.

Most importantly, NASA kept military contractors working long after their missile programs had expired. Production of Delta, Atlas and Titan launch vehicles continue today, primarily because NASA required these missile-based space launch vehicles decades after the missile programs themselves became extinct.

NASA was also instrumental in the birth of a brand new commercial launch industry which thrives today. Until 1987, NASA had the sole responsibility for launching commercial satellites. In the wake of the Challenger tragedy, NASA got out of the commercial launch business, allowing rocket manufacturers to establish their own terms for launching commercial payloads