(March 23, 1912 – June 16, 1977)
Wernher von Braun shares the March 23rd birthday with Emmy Noether and Pierre-Simon Laplace. Like some of the science geniuses before him, he initially experienced difficulties with physics and mathematics. But his fascination with projectiles, coupled with his dream of becoming a rocket scientist, forced him to conquer both subjects. He graduated as a mechanical engineer in the 1930s only to see his preoccupation with space travel relegated to the background: when the Nazis prioritized weaponry over leisure. Von Braun was stationed at the Peenemuende Research Center (in northern Germany), where he spearheaded the development of V-2 rockets. Brilliant and resourceful, he quickly established himself as the world’s leading rocket scientist: exceeding the expertise of his childhood hero, Hermann Oberth. As Hitler’s wars expanded, huge grants were poured into the Peenemuende programme, enabling von Braun to explore new ballistic avenues. His fame and reputation were such that after the war the U.S. Army whisked him off to USA. After debriefing him of the secrets of Peenemuende, they put him to work. He excelled effortlessly and later became a multi-award-winning director and chief architect at NASA. And according to America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration, von Braun is not just the “Father of Rocket Science”, but the greatest of all the rocket scientists. No one has so far disagreed.