Wernher von Braun was born in Wirsitz, Germany, (now Wyrzysk, Poland) on 23 March 1912. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the age of 20 from the University of Berlin, where he also received his doctorate in physics in 1934. Between 1932 and 1937, Von Braun was employed by the German Ordnance Department. He became technical director of the Peenemuende Rocket Center in 1937, where the V-2 rocket was developed. Near the end of World War II, he led more than 100 of his rocket team members to surrender to the Allied powers.
Von Braun came to the United States in September 1945 under contract with the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps as part of Operation Paperclip. He worked on high altitude firings of captured V-2 rockets at White Sands Proving Ground until he became project director of the Ordnance Research and Development Division Sub-Office (Rocket) at Fort Bliss, Texas. On 28 October 1949, the Secretary of the Army approved the transfer of the Fort Bliss group to Redstone Arsenal. After his arrival in Huntsville in April 1950, Von Braun was appointed Director of Development Operations. He continued in this position under the newly formed Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA).
Major ABMA development projects under Von Braun’s technical direction included the REDSTONE rocket, the JUPITER Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM), and the PERSHING missile. He and his team of German scientists and engineers were also responsible for developing the JUPITER C Reentry Test Missile and launching the Free World’s first scientific earth satellite, EXPLORER I.
On 1 July 1960, Von Braun and his team were transferred to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and became the nucleus of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center at Redstone Arsenal. He served as Director of the Marshall Center until February 1970 when he moved to NASA Headquarters to serve as Deputy Associate Administrator. On 1 July 1972, Von Braun left NASA to become Vice President of Engineering and Development for Fairchild Industries in Germantown, Maryland. Von Braun was inducted into the Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame in 1973. NASA named the von Braun Crater on the Moon in his honor.
He retired in January 1977 due to ill health and died on 16 June 1977.