Wernher von Braun exhibit opens at U.S. Space & Rocket Center

From the editorial “The remarkable story of space pioneer Dr. Wernher von Braun” by John Peck in The Huntsville Times:

There’s the public side and the personal side of German-turned-American rocket scientist Dr. Wernher von Braun. Most people know his public side. Now, in an extensive display of artifacts, personal items and historical documents, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center  in Huntsville is showcasing the life of the man known globally as the father of the American space program. The “100 Years of Von Braun: His American Journey,” opened last week and will run through May. Museum officials are working with schools to schedule field trips. Huntsville-area residents can use this chance to learn about the person largely credited with transforming Huntsville into a major hub for aerospace and defense work. The exhibit is the brainchild of the space museum’s new director, Dr. Deborah Barnhart.Von Braun died on June 16, 1977, at age 65 after a stellar career at NASA and later at a private satellite firm. His 100th birthday would be March 23, 2012.

“This is a story every American should know,” Barnhart said last week. “It takes visitors through von Braun’s American experience from the surrender at the end of World War II through their historic moon landing. This authentic and respectful story of his accomplishment also unveils the personal look at the man behind them – father, musician, sportsman and celebrity.” Visitors will delight in seeing family photographs of his life in Huntsville. One collection shows von Braun along with other German colleagues being sworn in as American citizens in the Huntsville High School auditorium on April 14, 1955. Items from his home in the Blossomwood area include books, his telescope and toys of his children. There’s a setup of his Marshall Space Flight Center office and collections of various personal keepsakes. There are videos of him with presidents John Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower in their visits to Huntsville, diagramming spaceflight sequences and making congressional appeals during the height of the space race.

As visitors stroll by the kiosks across the museum’s main floor, they can trace von Braun’s path from his boyhood days and missile work in Germany to his dramatic surrender to the Americans as allied forces were closing in. One enlarged photo, taken near the time of surrender, shows von Braun with his left arm still in a sling from a vehicle accident while rushing to a mountain hideout just days before. His brother, Magnus – chosen because of his English speaking skills – rode a bicycle (also on display) to surrender to American troops in Ruette, Austria, on May 2, 1945. There are historic photographs and films of von Braun and 117 other German missilemen living at Fort Bliss, Texas, and their transfer to Redstone Arsenal in 1950. The exhibit also educates viewers about the efforts by local leaders like Army Gen. Holger Toftoy to steer the U.S. missile program to Redstone.

There’s a life-size model of a V-2, an authentic captured blueprint of an enemy missile design, and footage of German missile parts being whisked by train to the Americans. There are models of various spacecraft and interviews that portray von Braun’s life as a public figure in the heyday of the space race, including his work with Walt Disney on space films to drum up public support. Sprinkled throughout the exhibit are blowup quotes of von Braun’s witticisms that give a sense not only of his communicating skills but of his no-nonsense management style. “One test result is worth one thousand expert opinions,” reads one. “Our two greatest problems are gravity and paperwork. We can lick gravity but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming,” reads another. Then there’s this: “I have learned to use the word impossible with the greatest of caution.” Von Braun looked beyond what many thought was impossible. And America is much better because of it. For more information on the Wernher von Braun exhibit please see http://www.ussrc.com/mu/travexh.

For the complete editorial please see http://blog.al.com/times-views/2011/10/the_remarkable_story_of_space.html.

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