Wernher von Braun, the son of a Prussian baron, was born in Wirsitz, Germany in 1912. He studied engineering at Berlin's Charlottenburg Institute of Technology and after reading The Rocket into Interplanetary Space by Hermann Oberth, he became interested in rocket technology and helped form the German Society for Space Travel.
In 1932 Braun's achievements attracted the attentions of Walter Dornberger, who was in charge of the solid-fuel rocket research and development in the Ordnance Department of the German Army. Dornberger recruited Braun and in 1934 he successfully built two rockets that rose vertically for more the than 2.4 kilometres (1.5 miles).
Dornberger was appointed military commander of rocket research station at Peenemunde in 1937. Braun became technical director of the establishment and he began to develop the long-range ballistic missile, the A4 and the supersonic anti-aircraft missile Wasserfall.
During the Second World War Braun began working on a new secret weapon, the V2 Rocket. This 45 feet long, liquid-fuelled rocket carried a one ton warhead, and was capable of supersonic speed and could fly at an altitude of over 50 miles. As a result it could not be effectively stopped once launched.
Heinrich Himmler saw the military potential of Braun's research and took over control of the research station. Himmler became increasingly concerned about the motivation of Braun, considering him more interested in space travel than developing bombs. In March, 1944, Braun was arrested by the Gestapo and was only released when they became convinced that Braun was willing to use all his energies to develop this bomb that Himmler believed had the potential to win the war.
The V2 Rocket was first used in September, 1944. Over 5,000 V-2s were fired on Britain. However, only 1,100 reached their target. These rockets killed 2,724 people and badly injured 6,000. After the D-Day landings, Allied troops were on mainland Europe and they were able to capture the launch sites and by March, 1945, the attacks came to an end.
With the Red Army advancing on the Peenemunde Research Station, Braun and his staff fled west and surrendered to the US Army. Braun and 40 other rocker scientists were taken to the United States where they worked on the development of nuclear missiles.
In 1952 Braun became technical director of the US Army's Ballistic Missile Agency at Huntsville, Alabama and was chiefly responsible for the manufacture and successful launching of Redstone, Jupiter-C, Juno and Pershing missiles.
After the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik on 4th October, 1957, Braun concentrated on the development of space rockets and in January, 1958 launched Explorer I.
In 1960 Braun became director of the Marshall Space Flight Center where he developed the Saturn rocket that helped the United States to land on the moon in 1969.
When President Richard Nixon dramatically reduced the space budget in 1972 Braun resigned and became vice-president of Fairchild Industries, an aerospace company
Wernher von Braun, who wrote the books Conquest of the Moon (1953) and Space Frontier (1967) died of cancer at Alexandria on 16th June, 1977.