Wernher Von Braun: Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
In this lesson, we'll explore the personal life of the famous rocket scientist Wernher von Braun. You'll learn a little bit about his childhood, his education, and his family.

Wernher von Braun

For many, Wernher von Braun is the father of modern rocket science and space travel, yet he was once employed by Nazi Germany before he found worldwide fame working for the United States after World War II. Who was this man? In this lesson, we'll try to answer that question in reference to his personal life, rather than his professional life or accomplishments.

Early Life

Wernher von Braun was born in Wirsitz, Germany, which is today known as Wyrzysk, Poland, on March 23, 1912.

Braun had it pretty good as a little kid, as he was born into a wealthy aristocratic family. His father was Baron Magnus von Braun, who founded the German Savings Bank. Not bad, right? Baron von Braun was also part of the Weimar Republic Cabinet and, as if that wasn't enough, minister of agriculture.

Von Braun's mother was pretty impressive herself: She was amateur astronomer and musician Emmy von Quistorp.

Even if you don't know much about rocket science and space travel, you probably know that being good at math and physics is pretty important for that field. But as a young kid, von Braun failed both! He was great at languages but not so much the hard sciences.

But, as fate would have it, he ended up attending the Hermann Lietz School, where the newest teaching methods of the day apparently worked on von Braun. He ended up falling in love with astronomy and, as a result, physics and math. This was probably helped by von Braun's love of science fiction at the time and a telescope he received from his mom as a gift. Regardless, he eventually mastered math so well that he was teaching it to some of his fellow students.

After school was over, von Braun ended up at the Berlin Institute of Technology in Berlin where he joined a space travel group. He also attended the Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, for some time as well. In both places, he further developed his aptitude for space flight by building small rocket engines and studying the possible effects of space flight on humans. In 1932, von Braun received his B.S. degree in mechanical engineering.

Later Life

Von Braun eventually attended the University of Berlin, where he received a doctorate in physics in 1934. He was so far ahead of his peers and in such high demand that he was quickly in charge of 80 scientists and technicians at an important research facility in Germany.

Wernher von Braun
Wernher von Braun

There was a big problem with everything, however. See, the Germans wanted to develop rockets for war. Von Braun despised the use of rocket technology for military use and wanted to apply it to space travel instead. This earned him a visit from the Nazi secret police, a charge of espionage, and subsequent imprisonment.

But, the Nazis quickly realized their mistake: They had just jailed their brightest rocket scientist and the research program suffered as a result. Hitler ended up personally releasing von Braun and used his work for military use, despite von Braun's protestations.

Von Braun became engaged to Dorothee Brill, a physical education teacher from Berlin, in 1943. But he couldn't just marry her as would be the case today. Remember, this was Nazi Germany. He needed to get permission to marry her from the SS Race and Settlement Office. Basically, this office had to check the racial purity of the couple, and if it was up to standard, they'd be allowed to marry.

However, all of this was moot in the end. Von Braun's mother apparently disapproved of Brill for some reason, and the couple never married.

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