Since World War II, spacecraft have launched satellites into orbit, landed astronauts on the moon, and probed our solar system – many owing their existence to partnerships formed during the conflict.
Wernher von Braun and his team formed one such collaboration, creating the rocket which propelled Yuri Gagarin into space aboard Vostok 1. His journey was remarkable!
Hitler’s V-2 rocket may not have had military utility, but its engineering value cannot be understated. It marked an important turning point in ballistic missile development which led to Cold War intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as well as modern space exploration.
Engineer Wernher von Braun had imagined his creation as part of humanity’s future in interplanetary space, drawing workers gathered from other concentration camps with technical skills for its production in Mittelwerk’s subterranean factory, often under appalling conditions including poor sanitation and no daylight. Bombers attempted to strike it off-line but its engineers purposely left any damage intact as cover for Allied reconnaissance planes to spy.
At the end of World War II, American troops overran Peenemunde factory. Before Soviet troops could occupy the area, American troops evacuated 300 rail cars containing V-2 components and one complete rocket and engine can now be seen at three museums: Paris Musee de l’Armee; Berlin Deutsches Historisches Museum and Peenemunde concentration camp memorial site Dora-Mittelbau.
Sanger’s Antipodal Bomber
Eugen Sanger was a highly talented engineer working for the Nazis who was known for designing rocket propulsion engines and ramjet technology. Following World War II, he relocated to Paris where he continued working peacefully until Joe Stalin nearly kidnapped him1 for continued work on what may have been his greatest effort unfinished during that war: his antipodal spaceplane known as Silbervogel (Silver Bird).
The concept was to build a manned rocket-powered vehicle capable of skimming off of atmospheric layers like a flat stone skimming across water to extend its flight, then use long glides to reach opposite side of Earth with long glides before using nuclear bombs against USA targets – though pilot would experience extremely high G forces upon take-off and landing. Unfortunately, Reichsluftfahrtministerium wanted to focus more closely on immediate weapon systems rather than long term development projects, and cancelled this program but its concept was picked up later by Soviets who significantly influenced postwar research efforts into postwar manned rockets research projects.
By 1914, airplanes had only been around for slightly over a decade, yet both sides quickly recognized its power as an effective weapon. Winning in the sky became a crucial tactical objective and both armies worked toward producing faster and deadlier fighters and bombers to win that war in the sky.
Initial reconnaissance flights used scout aircraft to provide visual surveillance over the front lines; however, their inadequate engines could carry only two people at a time. By 1917 however, new type of aircraft known as Zeppelins powered by large hydrogen-filled dirigibles entered service – these feared German airships soared at 11,000 feet and dropped huge bombs, including one which struck a London hospital and killed nine.
As World War II continued, civilian aviation merged into military aviation; companies like Junkers and Heinkel began producing planes for Luftwaffe as civilian aircraft were being made for use as war material. Many passenger planes produced by these companies bore Nazi symbols on them to remind their passengers of their role in Nazi power seizure.
After World War II, the Soviet Union acquired much of the German rocket and missile programs, including much of their engineering staff. A team at Institute Rabe led by Boris Chertok recruited German rocket specialists in order to restore an operational V-2 flight control system.
Though several spacecraft projects failed miserably – most notably Vostok which resembled an oversized hollowed out cannonball lined with cushioning and returned home sounding like a high-speed car crash – the USSR managed to develop their own version of orbital spacecraft known as Salyuts that allowed three cosmonauts to spend extended time conducting engineering experiments and studying our planets and solar system from orbit.
Korolev’s OKB-1 design bureau made history in 1954 when they invented and produced the R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which launched the world’s first artificial satellite into orbit. Later versions would allow Soviet space stations to open new frontiers of scientific study and human discovery.