The Religious Affiliation of Rocket Engineer and Inventor
Wernher von Braun
Wernher von Braun was one of the most influential scientists and engineeers of the 20th Century. His theories, leadership and technical skills allowed America to land men on the moon. Wernher von Braun was a Lutheran who as a youth and young man had little interest in religion. But as an adult he developed a firm belief in the Lord and in an the afterlife. He was pleased to have opportunities to speak to peers (and anybody else who would listen) about his faith and Biblical beliefs.
Alternative spelling: Werner von Braun.
Wernher von Braun's mother's family was "for several hundred years present in Pomerania and Mecklenburg [in Germany] as ministers of the Lutheran Church, and as university professors, bankers and landowners. Wernher von Braun dated his interest in science and engineering to the day of his confirmation into the Lutheran Church. As a gift to commemorate the occasion, his mother gave him a telescope." [Source: Dennis Piszkiewicz, Wernher von Braun: The Man Who Sold the Moon, Praeger: Westport, Connecticut (1998), pages 22-23.]
Ernst Stuhlinger, one of von Braun's friends and fellow engineers at Peenemunde recalled that von Braun said he looked forward to seeing the next life. Von Braun said, "It is inconceivable to me that there should not be something else after we have finished our Earthly voyage." [Source: Christopher Lampton, Wernher von Braun, Franklin Watts: New York (1988), page 146.]
From: Ernst Stuhlinger and Frederick I. Ordway III, Wernher von Braun: Crusader for Space: A Biographical Memoir, Krieger Publishing Company: Malabar, Florida (1994), page 9:
Von Braun's family tree can be traced back to the year 1285. His ancestors lived in Silesia, an eastern province of Germany along the upper portion of the Oder river. At the end of World War II, in 1945, this land became a part of Poland. Among von Braun's forefathers were knights, landowners, governors, jurists, diplomats, generals, even rectors of religious schools, but no engineers or scientists.
From the inside front cover book jacket of Wernher von Braun: Crusader for Space, by Stuhlinger and Ordway:
Although rockets and rocket-like gadgets have been known for about 2000 years, the development of high-performance, high-precision rockets began only about sixty years ago when Wernher von Braun started an energetic and systematic program to build rockets for spaceflight. In 1958, von Braun's team launched the Saturn V rocket that was to launch 12 American astronauts on their way to the moon. This book is based on very close personal and work relationships between von Braun and the authors (25 years for Frederick Ordway, 34 years for Ernst Stuhlinger). More than 100 carefully recorded and edited interviews, and several hundred verbal and written comments on von Braun by people who knew him well, were used for the book.
From: Stuhlinger and Ordway, Wernher von Braun: Crusader for Space, page 11:
When [young] Wernher [von Braun] transferred to the Hermann Lietz boarding school at Ettersburg Castle near Weimar in 1925, he started taking cello lessons. Soon afterwards, he became a member of the school's student orchestra. A life that was so full of activity as von Braun's certainly did not leave much time for practicing a musical instrument, and yet, he enjoyed making music so much that he occasionally played in a quartet during the prewar years in Peenemunde. His cello was accompanied by Rudolf Hermann's and Heinrich Ramm's violins, and by Gerhard Reisig's viola, when the four of them played works by Mozart, Haydn, and Schubert.
Many years later, von Braun visited the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City and admired the world-famous organ. When the organist learned of von Braun's great love of music, he invited him to play the precious instrument. Promptly, von Braun sat down and played "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."
From: Stuhlinger and Ordway, Wernher von Braun: Crusader for Space, pages 269-273:
Among the many projects that von Braun led to success, the most demanding and impressive was the Saturn V rocket that launched astronauts on their way to the Moon. It made a dream come true that had been alive in his mind ever since he wrote, as a young boy: "There is no doubt that one day, man will be able to travel to the Moon, and to walk on its surface . . ."
The Moon project had taken shape under the hands and brains of many thousands of craftsmen, engineers, scientists, technicians, organizers, and managers, each of whom had his part not only in the accomplishment, but also in the worries, and in the responsibility for the ultimate success. And yet, it was von Braun who, in the morning hours of that fateful 16 July 1969, had to give the final answer to the question: "Are we ready to launch?"
Implicitly, that simple question stood for innumerable other questions. Did nobody make a mistake in all these countless calculations? Will all these myriads of electric and mechanical gadgets work properly? Is there no leakage in this jungle of pipes and valves? Are all computers programmed correctly? Will all these powerful hydraulic systems function as they should? Has no error been made in the timing of those hundreds of events which all depend mutually upon each other? Have all possible contingencies been taken into consideration? What has to be done first if something goes wrong? Do we have maximum safety for the astronauts in case of a system failure?
Although von Braun would never have accepted the notion that the Saturn-Apollo project was "his" project, he knew that he would be the first to be criticized in case disaster struck. After a successful flight, there would be many to share the praise. After a failure, the word would be: "Wernher, it was your foolish idea to begin with!" He also knew that the entire development of spaceflight, in which he believed so fervently, would suffer a severe setback in case of a tragedy in space. This knowledge must have weighed heavily on his mind in the moment when he had to give the final go-ahead signal for the Saturn launch. Surely, the responsibility was shared by several of von Braun's colleagues and friends, particularly by Gilruth whose Manned Spacecraft Center was responsible for the lunar transfer and return stages, the lunar landing and take-off system, the landing capsule, and the accommodations for the astronauts. When the moment of launch approached and the final question of launch readiness was asked, both men answered with an unqualified "yes."
A week later, when the astronauts were safely back on Earth, a reporter wanted to know: "Dr. von Braun, what did you think after you had given your final 'yes' a week ago?"--"I quietly said the Lord's prayer," was his answer.
He could have done many other things, for example, anxiously wait for the first confirmation from the astronauts that everything aboard was all right; or, think of all the thousands of parts and instruments--many of them furnished by the lowest bidder!--that had to work properly; or, pin his eyes on the countless meters in the control room that indicated the status of the flight systems; or, implore the Lord that he may let this one succeed . . . however, his prayer was simply: "Thy will be done."
It would have been true to his nature if he had added: "You gave me this love for exploration and adventure and spaceflight, and also this gift to transform the dreams into reality. I have lived and worked as one little part of Your boundless creation. If we succeed with this journey to the Moon, it will be to Your glory. If we don't, it is Your will. As far as I am concerned, I have used all the talents You have put into me, and I have done my very best..."
Whether these thoughts actually came to his mind at that moment, nobody will ever know.
Those who had known von Braun before the late 1950s may have been surprised by his answer. Throughout his younger years, von Braun did not show signs of religious devotion, or even an interest in things related to the church or to biblical teachings. In fact, he was known to his friends as a "merry heathen" (Frohlicher Heide). Those who knew him through the 1960s and 1970s noticed during these years that a new element began to surface in his conversations, and also in his speeches and his writings: a growing interest in religious thought.
It is possible that the seeds for this interest had existed in von Braun's mind subconsciously. After all, he had been brought up in a tradition-rich aristocratic family whose line of ancestry can be traced back to the year 1285, and whose members included prominent officials of the church. Young Wernher received a very careful education not only in the usual scholastic subjects, but also in art, music, classical literature, and religion. Very likely, what von Braun sought in his later years was not a consolation of the soul, or a moral strengthening, or a road to salvation, or a relief from the feeling of guilt--it was the quest for a synthesis of these seemingly divergent forces that rule the course of the world: The need for material subsistence, the drive for power, the urge for knowledge, the technical evolution, the struggles in the name of religious faith. He had delved deeper into the world of engineering and science, and he had become more familiar with economical problems, diplomatic activities, educational systems, even military planning, than most other people; now he wished to round off his view of the world by integrating also the basic elements of religious thought into this far-reaching concept of our earthly existence.
An avid reader since his boyhood, von Braun not only devoured the books written by Jules Verne and Hermann Oberth, but also those by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich von Schiller, and Immanuel Kant. It was particularly the latter who played a decisive role in the development of von Braun's religious thinking. Here he found the bridge between the visible world around us, which never ceased to impress him most profoundly, and some invisible world from which, as he was convinced, must come the master plan for this marvelous system of natural laws and orderly evolution.
From the mid-1960s on, von Braun occasionally talked about his religious thoughts. He sometimes shared his views on religion with his traveling companions. "How do you feel about this, does it make sense to you?" he might ask. However, he would not wait for a response; in true von Braun fashion, he would give the answer himself, always well-formulated and exhaustive. He had come to the conclusion that the world of technology--which for him began with toy rockets and eventually embraced manned voyages to the Moon and the planets--and the world of science--which gave us these fantastic insights into the atoms and the stars, and even into the mysteries of live organisms--must somehow fit into the design of a greater system in which our human destiny, too, finds its place and its meaning.
"Dr. von Braun, do you believe in God?" As von Braun's publicity grew, there were more and more occasions when he was asked this age-old question. His answer was always prompt and to the point: "Yes, absolutely!" And then, he would begin to talk in his characteristic von Braun style, with perfect grammar and syntax, letting his carefully chosen words flow like a sparkling mountain stream, while he described his religious convictions with an almost disarming simplicity
He was neither embarrassed nor annoyed by this question. He even seemed grateful for the opportunity to formulate and describe the elements of his religious belief. In essence, he said what Goethe had his Faust say to Gretchen: "Who may say, I believe in him, or I do not believe in him? Does he not embrace and sustain you, me, himself?"
"It seems to me that your question is irrelevant," von Braun would say. "It is so obvious that we live in a world in which a fantastic amount of logic, of rational lawfulness, is at work. We are aware of a large number of laws of physics and chemistry and biology which, by their mutual interdependence, make nature work as if it were following a grandiose plan from its earliest beginnings to the farthest reaches of its future destiny. To me, it would be incomprehensible that there should be such a gigantic master plan without a master planner behind it. This master planner is He whom we call the Creator of the Universe . . . One cannot be exposed to the law and order of the universe without concluding that there must be a Divine intent behind it all."
"For me," he would continue, "there is no real contradiction between the world of science and the world of religion. The two are dealing with two different things, but they are not in conflict with each other. Theologians are trying to describe the Creator; scientists are trying to describe His creation. Science and religion are not antagonists; on the contrary, they are sisters . . . While, through science, man tries to harness the forces of nature around him, through religion he tries to harness the forces of nature within him . . ."
Sir Bernard Lovell, in his book Astronomer by Chance [9-50], argues that "science and theology must not be viewed as mutually exclusive forms of human behavior. Rather, they should be harmonized to provide a self-consistent view of reality . . . Science lacks an ethical basis and fails to speak to much we humans experience . . ."
Von Braun expressed the same basic thought a little differently: "Science itself has no moral dimension; it is neither good nor evil. We must apply our own moral yardstick to judge its ethical value."
"Man has this fabulous ability to learn, to understand, to correlate, and to create," von Braun wrote. "He has the capability to make nature his servant. His freedom in making decisions is almost fearsome . . . Science has taught us one most important lesson about God that we should never forget: We have learned that God does not interfere in the free order of life and nature which He created. If we do not accept this, we must abandon the entire concept of freedom ..."
Erik Bergaust, science writer, author, and outdoors man par excellence, met von Braun in 1950 and quickly became a close friend. He remembers a campfire evening in the Virginia mountains during a fishing trip with von Braun in the summer of 1970 [2-37]. "The last fishing story of the evening had been told," he wrote; "the men were sitting around the flaming logs, each submerged in his own deep thoughts under an endless sky with myriads of stars. Finally, I broke the silence. 'Wernher, what do you think of the hereafter?' I asked. 'I believe in an immortal soul that can cherish the rewards or suffer the penalty decreed in the Last Judgment,' von Braun replied."
An enchanted summer night on the banks of a rushing creek in the Shenandoah valley makes a beautiful setting for a talk about those questions which are so incessantly alive in every searching mind, and yet so inaccessible to any simplistic approach by rational thought alone. Von Braun, in his quest to see the world as one harmonious structure, must have spent many hours to find a synthesis between the sober, logical, cause-and-effect world of the natural sciences and that other world that begins in the innermost regions of the human mind and stretches out into the depth of space and time, and which will forever remain unfathomable for an earthling with his limited perception and understanding.
With this simple question, Bergaust had hit upon a well that gushed forth for hours during that night at the campfire.
"Our life does not have materialistic and intellectual aspects alone," von Braun said. 'This is as true today as it was centuries ago. We cannot live without ethical laws and some belief in a Last Judgment, where every one of us has to account for what he did with God's precious gift of life on Earth . . . More than ever, mankind's survival depends on adherence to some basic ethical principles. Our adherence to such principles alone will decide whether our new inventions in the field of atomic energy will provide mankind with an inexhaustible supply of energy and wealth, or whether mankind will perish by its abuse . . ."
"Our present, sometimes seemingly hopeless political impasse, which is caused by warmongers and terrorists, shows us with a frightening clarity that all of man's scientific and engineering efforts are in vain unless they are performed and utilized within the framework of ethical standards commensurate with the power of the new tools provided by the technological revolution. The farther technology advances, the more fateful will be its impact on humanity. But if the world's ethical standards and moral laws fail to rise and to be adhered to with the advances of our technological revolution, we run the distinct risk that we shall all perish."
President George Bush, in his inaugural address on 20 January 1989, expressed the same thought in more concise form: "America is never herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle."
"Our knowledge and use of the laws of nature," von Braun continued, "that enable us to fly to the Moon also enable us to destroy our home planet with the atom bomb. Science itself does not address the question whether we should use the power at our disposal for good or for evil. The guidelines of what we ought to do are furnished in the moral law of God. It is no longer enough that we pray that God may be with us on our side; we must learn again to pray that we may be on God's side," von Braun added, paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln's words, spoken more than a hundred years ago: "I am not concerned that the Lord be on my side. I am concerned that I be on the Lords side!"
"It was late that night," Bergaust recalled, "when we finally crept into our tent and sleeping bags, falling asleep with the calls of whippoorwills and owls in our ears."
It had been a long talk, but it came from an abundance of thoughts that had accumulated in von Braun's mind over the previous ten or twenty years. Some of them had been expressed in speeches or writings [9-49]. In the summer of 1976, von Braun was invited by the Lutheran Church of America to give a presentation at a national church convention in Philadelphia on the subject of "Responsible Scientific Investigation and Application." He was happy to accept the invitation, and he wrote an essay consisting of five chapters [9-51]. The last chapter dealt with the subject "Science and Religion." When the symposium took place later that year, von Braun was already too ill to travel to Philadelphia and present his paper in person; it was read by the chairman of the session.
Walter A. McDougall, in an essay for the American Review in 1982 [9-52], wrote: "The fallacy of the early space age was that the pursuit of power, especially through science and technology, could absolve modern man from his duty to examine, affirm, or alter his own values and behavior in the first place. The politicians climbed aboard. It was left to Wernher von Braun to admonish 'that man raise his ethical standards or perish'."
Around 1975, when von Braun's advancing illness had begun to throw its shadow on his life, his mind turned more and more toward religious thoughts. His desire to see the world of science and technology in full harmony with the world of religion, particularly as it is manifested in Christian faith, grew even stronger. But he did not wish to argue about matters of personal creed. "Finite man cannot begin to comprehend an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and infinite God . . . I find it best to accept God through faith, as an intelligent will, perfect in goodness and wisdom, revealing Himself through His creation . . ."
It was surprising to some of von Braun's associates that in spiritual matters, he would reach so deeply into the realm of the irrational.
His entire work for space was solidly based on the exact laws of natural sciences. In his life as a human among humans, he advocated and tried to follow the rational, fundamental, time-honored rules of high morality and ethics. In his religious beliefs, it was different. He liked to talk about his beliefs, but although he would sometimes insert a brief "don't you think so?" or "wouldn't you agree?" He did not enter into discussions of the points he made. Obviously, he was not much interested in what others believed. "Matters of faith are not really accessible to our rational thinking," he would say. "I find it best not to ask any questions, but simply to believe . . ."
This approach would not have been shared by all of von Braun's friends and admirers. However, it was typical of von Braun. He was so intent on understanding as much as possible of our physical and biological world, and he was proud of having contributed to this understanding through his life's work, but he did not wish to apply his capacity for creative thought to an area where he could not expect tangible results. So, he said: "It is best not to think, but just to believe . . ."
"The universe as revealed through scientific inquiry," he would add, "is the living witness that God has indeed been at work." He often quoted the immortal words spoken by Frank Borman who was asked, after his Christmas 1968 flight around the Moon with Apollo 8, whether he had seen God on his flight so far away from Earth. "No," Borman said, "I didn't see him, but I saw his evidence."
Stuhlinger and Ordway, Wernher von Braun: Crusader for Space, page 275:
Did von Braun gradually mature as a personality during his career?
Maturing, developing a distinct personality, getting wiser and more stable are common in many people whose lives are distinguished by unusual accomplishments. Von Braun did not follow this standard pattern. The basic characteristics of his personality were firmly established when the Peenemunde project began, probably even earlier. They remained unchanged until his life came to its end...
The enduring nature of his unique talents was evident even in such mundane things as keeping his diary; he used the same format for his daily entries, the same markers for appointments, reminders, impressions, and decisions over a period of more than forty years.
Another conspicuous trait in von Braun's nature that did not change over the years was his firm belief in the basic goodness and honesty of people, and also in their intent to do something to be creative in some way. "All I am doing," he sometimes said, "is leading others toward a goal they wanted to achieve anyway."
The only area in which von Braun's long-time companions could observe a change was his religious belief, described earlier.
From: Stuhlinger and Ordway, Wernher von Braun: Crusader for Space, page 276:
All of those who met von Braun in private life would agree that he was thoroughly happy with his family. Being at home with Maria and the children, or going horseback riding, or boating on the Tennessee River, or enjoying a barbecue outing in the woods--it was always an experience that lifted his spirits. He loved to tell others about his daughters and his son; he carefully followed their development at school, and he complemented their education with innumerable talks about science, history, sports, books, and also about proper behavior. He was unhappy when they watched too much TV and he was happy when they showed interest in science, technology, or history. Von Braun had the rare gift of clearly separating the various compartments of his action-filled daily schedules. When he was with the family, rocket projects, budget meetings, interservice problems, and launch schedules were moved out of sight. At least for an hour or two, he was only husband and father. "Enjoy what you are doing," he often said. He wanted to be happy; in fact, he was most intent on being happy, and he found many ways to be so.
From: Stuhlinger and Ordway, Wernher von Braun: Crusader for Space, page 329-332:
Almost the whole world had witnessed the gigantic strides of von Braun's life and work. He relished the incredible popularity of his space achievements. The final phase of his fabulous life in the sick room of Alexandria Hospital was marked by seclusion and silence. "Thy will be done" was his last credo. Wernher von Braun ended his earthly voyage on 16 June 1977.
He was buried in a small church yard in the Washington area before the world learned of his death, as he had wished. Only his family and a few friends were present. Six days later, a memorial service was held in the Washington National Cathedral conducted by its dean, the Very Reverend Francis B. Sayre, Jr. It had been arranged by the National Space Institute.
Dean Sayre had been a long-time friend of von Braun, and also of everything related to the exploration of space. Several years earlier, he had a rock sample from the Moon set high in one of the cathedral's windows, with appropriate dedication ceremony. He also had served on the National Space Institute's Executive Committee.
Under the somber, and yet so powerful organ sounds of Brahms and Bach, about five hundred people attended the simple, but dignified service. The West German Ambassador to the United States, Berndt von Staden, honored the son of his country with a wreath from the president of the Federal Republic of Germany, Walter Scheel. Eulogies were delivered by three of von Braun's former colleagues, James Fletcher;
Michael Collins, Apollo 11 astronaut, and at the time director of the National Air and Space Museum; and Ernst Stuhlinger. Fred Ordway was traveling for the Energy Research and Development Administration in South America at that time; he could not attend the service.
"In the words of the prophet Joel," Fletcher said, "'your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall see dreams.' Fortunately for the human race, a few men arise in each century who 'see visions and 'dream dreams' that give hope and spiritual nourishment to us all . . . Wernher von Braun was such a man . . . He clung to what seemed an impossible dream for his entire life, despite pressures of politics, bureaucratic entanglements, war, loss of fortune, and even, especially, personal criticism. Nearly all of our major technical accomplishments today, on Earth as well as in space, were foreseen by him at one time or another during his lifetime. The manned voyage to the Moon, the unmanned exploration of the solar system, and, by observing platforms, the entire universe were all part of his vision. They are now reality, and an integral part of our consciousness. Television satellites, weather satellites, Earth resources satellites, and many more 'down-to-Earth' programs were not only predicted by him, but he and his associates--many of whom are here today--brought many of these projects to fruition. And his dreams carried well into the future . . . Those of us who remain must transform those dreams of the future into reality, and pass on to the next generation what can be and should be their own dreams . . . I sincerely hope that Wernher von Braun's passing shall be a reminder for all of us of what one person can do to show the world the magnificent future which is in store for it, and the wonders that man is capable of performing."
Collins spoke with affection of the man to whom he owed his journey to the Moon. "Wernher was a leader," he said, "with the versatility that leaders of genius must possess . . . He was a master of the intricacies of his machines . . . , but he realized that rockets could be only as successful as the people who built them, and he assembled an extraordinarily talented team, people who worked well with each other, and who were totally devoted to Wernher . . . Thirty-three Saturn flights, all successful, all without loss of life, all without weapons . . . Saturns sent twenty-seven Americans to the Moon, twelve of them to walk on it. Saturns sent nine astronauts up to Sky lab, which itself was a converted Saturn upper stage. And, finally, the last Saturn sent an American crew up to join a Russian spacecraft in Earth orbit . . . Von Braun was, at the same time, a visionary and a pragmatist, a technologist and a humanist. From his youth he had dreamed of flying to the far corners of the solar system, yet it was always the next flight that seemed the most important one to him . . . Because he worked with rockets, I would call him a rocket man--but that is a cold term, and he was anything but cold. He was a warm and friendly man, interested in everyone around him . . . Wernher von Braun believed that the desire to explore was a fundamental part of mankind's nature . . . Although he is no longer with us, I like to think that he is around us, exploring, traveling through the far reaches of the universe, traveling paths of which he long dreamed, and which, more than any other man, he has brought closer to reality . . ."
Stuhlinger said about his long-time boss and friend: "Scientists, poets, and prophets have known for a long time that one day man will travel to the Moon. Von Braun made this dream come true . . . How can we fathom this life full of prophetic vision and supreme accomplishment, of human warmth and engineering marvels, of romantic poetry and clockwork precision, of grandiose space exploration and minute technical detail? 'When a man dies,' Anne Morrow Lindbergh said, 'it is like a tree falling: every part and phase of his life becomes visible at one time.' Wernher's life, from its very beginning, was distinguished by an obsession to give only the best. As a youthful astronomer, as a volunteer-helper of rocket pioneer Hermann Oberth, as a student of physics, and particularly as a rocket engineer first in Germany and then in the United States--he always wanted to give his very best . . . He had the rare and precious gift of instilling in his many co-workers his own enthusiasm for hard work and high quality. But he was not only a tough and demanding task master; he was a path finder and problem solver, and he always overflowed with an exuberant joy of life that lighted up many dark chasms on the road to the stars.
Von Braun took space exploration as a way for man to find his place and destiny in the universe. As a young boy, he decided that this exploration could be accomplished with rockets, so he devoted his life to the development of powerful high precision rockets. Mathematics, physics, and engineering are only part of the ingredients needed for such a gigantic program. When he was asked in later years what it takes to send men to the Moon, he answered: 'The will to do it!' He certainly had the will to do it, but he possessed even more: an irresistible personal charm, coupled with almost magic powers of persuasion, which helped him conquer many hesitant or doubtful minds.
Wernher has always felt deeply grateful to this country which became his second home. More than thirty years ago, it was his 'haven of promise'; later, he often remarked how wonderful America had been to him and his family, and to all his friends who immigrated with him. However, he never failed to add that his team really consisted of all the thousands and thousands of men and women in government, industry, universities, and the armed forces who gave him their talents and their confidence, and who all share credit for the success of the space adventure.
With a deep-rooted interest in philosophy and religion, he saw no conflict between scientific knowledge and religious faith. 'The natural sciences,' he said, 'deal with creation; religion deals with the creator. The two are really complementing each other perfectly . . .'
'When my journey comes to an end,' he once remarked, 'I hope that I can retain my clear mind and perceive not only those precious last moments of my life, but also the transition to whatever will come then. A human being is so much more than a physical body that withers and vanishes after it has been around for a number of years. It is inconceivable to me that there should not be something else for us after we have finished our earthly voyage. I hope that I can observe and learn, and finally know what comes after all those beautiful things we experience during our lives on Earth.'"
Reverend Sayre expressed the feelings of those present in the cathedral, and of millions all over the world: "We thank Thee, God of the Heavens, for a man of new beginnings . . ."
There were many good words, spoken or written by innumerable friends all over the world, whose minds and hearts von Braun had touched, and who wished to share their deep feelings at this time of mourning.
President Jimmy Carter wrote: "To millions of Americans, Wernher von Braun'd to give his very best.s name was inextricably linked to our exploration of space, and to the creative application of technology. He was not only a skillful engineer, but also a man of bold vision; his inspirational leadership helped mobilize and maintain the effort we needed to reach to the Moon and beyond . . . Not just the people of our nation, but all the people of the world have profited from his work. We will continue to profit from his example."
Alan Lovelace, Acting Administrator of NASA, said: "In the tradition of Newton and Einstein, he was a dreamer pursuing visions, and at the same time a creative genius. He was a twentieth century Columbus who pushed back the new frontiers of outer space with efforts that enabled his adopted country to achieve a preeminence in space exploration."
Don Fuqua, U.S. Congressman from Florida, wrote: "He was such an outgoing person, full of vim and vigor . . . To see him as he was beginning to wither was a very, very sad experience . . ."
Father (formerly Major General) John Bruce Medaris wrote: "His imagination strolled easily among the stars, yet the farther out into the unknown and unknowable vastness of Creation his thoughts went, the more he was certain that the universe, and this small garden spot within it, came from no cosmic accident, but from the thought and purpose of an all-knowing God . . ."
William R. Lucas, Director, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, said: "Wernher von Braun was a man whose eyes were steadfastly fixed on the future. He had the mind of a scientist, the hands of an engineer, the soul of a poet, and the vision of a prophet."
Arthur C. Clarke, the "Prophet of Space," wrote: "There are few in the whole of history who have left such a record of achievement as Wernher, or who have seen, in their own lifetime, so triumphant a vindication of their ideals and dreams. He will be an inspiration for generations to come. I count it as one of the greatest privileges of my life to have known him as a friend."
Frederick C. Durant III said: "I feel that Wernher von Braun was one of the greatest men I have ever met . . . His greatness was pointing out the feasibility of spaceflight, and the way to achieve it . . . And his greatness was the ability to communicate these facts, and his ability to lead the design of the vehicles that would make spaceflight possible, and to go ahead and build these vehicles . . ."
Joachim Kuettner, a longtime friend and co-worker, wrote: "There can be no doubt that it was only his genius which succeeded in overcoming the countless difficulties and problems in the Saturn V program. He never complained about obstacles or setbacks; he only invented new ways and solutions that gave directions to his co-workers. His presence always had an electrifying effect. Boring conferences became interesting and stimulating when he entered the room . . . It was always a pleasure to be near him . . . He filled his life to the breaking point with activity, as if he had known that his time on Earth would be limited . . ."
Riccardo Giacconi, scientific director of the great Hubble Space Telescope project, expressed his own feelings--but they are certainly shared by thousands of those who had known Wernher von Braun:
"He had a nobility around him that set him apart from all other people in the space program . . . He believed in the decency of man . . ."
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