Do you dream of interplanetary space travel?
In the summer of 1944, the population of London was accustomed to the loud rumbling of a buzz bomb flying overhead, the abrupt silence when the engine stopped and the bomb began its descent to earth, the anxious seconds of waiting for the explosion. Buzz bombs, otherwise known as V-1s, were simple pilotless airplanes, launched from sites along the French and Dutch coasts. As the summer ended and our armies drove the Germans out of France, the buzz bombs stopped coming. They were replaced by a much less disturbing instrument of murder, the V-2 rockets launched from more distant sites in western Holland. The V-2 was not nerve-wracking like the buzz bomb. When a V-2 came down, we heard the explosion first and the supersonic scream of the descending rocket afterward. As soon as we heard the explosion, we knew that it had missed us. The buzz bombs and the V-2 rockets killed a few thousand people in London, but they hardly disrupted our civilian activities and had no effect at all on the war that was then raging in France and in Poland. The rockets had even less effect than the buzz bombs.
In the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, Freeman Dyson reviews a new book, Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War. (Unfortunately the full text is behind the paywall.) His review is worth reading.
This book raises three important issues, one historical and two moral. The historical question is whether von Braun's great achievement, providing the means for twelve men to walk on the moon, made sense. ... The two moral issues are whether von Braun was justified in selling his soul to Himmler, and whether the United States was justified in giving sanctuary and honorable employment to von Braun and other members of the [V-2] team. ...
He also talks about his own feelings of responsibility for the firebombing of Dresden. You may recall, from 2006:
According to one who was present, Churchill suddenly blurted out: "Are we animals? Are we taking this too far?"
Publishers Weekly reviewed the book:
Neufeld, chair of the Space History Division at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, offers what is likely to be the definitive biography of Wernher von Braun (1912–1977), the man behind both Nazi Germany's V-1 and V-2 rockets and America's postwar rocket program. Spearheading America's first satellite launch in 1958, which brought the U.S. up to par with the Soviet Union in space, von Braun was celebrated on the covers of Time and Life. Neufeld has a deep understanding of the technical and human challenges von Braun faced in leading the U.S. space program and lucidly explains his role in navigating the personal and public politics, management challenges and engineering problems that had to be solved before landing men on the moon. Neufield doesn't discount von Braun's past as an SS member and Nazi scientist (which was downplayed by NASA), but concludes nonjudgmentally that von Braun's lifelong obsession with becoming the Columbus of space, not Nazi sympathies, led him to his Faustian bargain to accept resources to build rockets regardless of their source or purpose. A wide range of readers (not only science and space buffs) will find this illuminating and rewarding.
The book was also reviewed for the Washington Post last September.
Wernher von Braun: Rocket Man, by Freeman Dyson