'Bright-eyed with vision': Wernher von Braun launched as a celebrity

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Portrait of Dr. Von Braun with Walt Disney, 1954.

While most of the rocket scientists from Operation Paperclip did not gather a great deal of public attention, Wernher von Braun became a tireless lobbyist for spaceflight in the United States, publishing popular articles and even collaborating with Walt Disney.

With the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957 and the US response with the Explorer 1 satellite on January 31, 1958, von Braun became a celebrity, appearing on the cover of Life and Time magazines within the space of three months. He is portrayed in these articles as a visionary genius driven by the love of pure technology, 'bright-eyed with the dream that gave Germany its V-2 and the U.S. its first orbiting satellite.' (Time, 7 February 1958)

The articles highlight, rather than downplay, his role on the German V-2 rockets, but mostly as an effective technological expert who was occasionally plagued by similar bureaucracy to that which he faced when working for the US Army. Although the articles described him as "thoroughly Americanized," they also recounted his German childhood at length.

Despite the attention being lavished on him, he also offered readers his advice on how to treat an expert: "In Europe, a professor is quite a man. But here, whenever a scientist gains some eminence, they throw rocks at him."

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Alexander Badenoch, ''Bright-eyed with vision': Wernher von Braun launched as a celebrity', Inventing Europe, http://www.inventingeurope.eu/knowledge/bright-eyed-with-vision-wernher-von-braun-launched-as-a-celebrity

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About this tour

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Expatriate experts: the Second World War and the movement of knowledge

The Second World War and the Cold War brought experts in science and technology together, and divided them. They were brought together on major military projects like the German V-2 rocket program, or the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. They were also divided and scattered over borders. Some fled the Nazi regime and worked from exile, often for Allied projects. Others were divided up as "intellectual reparations" - both voluntarily and involuntarily - after the war.

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Werner von Braun



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