From Adversary to Ally

By spring 1945, World War II came to an end. The Allied forces won after pushing the front line back beyond the 180-mile (290-km) range of the V-2. Hitler committed suicide. Von Braun and his

A V-2 rocket launches from a site at White Sands, New Mexico, in 1946 after von Braun and his team began making rockets for the United States. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Peenemünde crew surrendered under friendly terms to the Americans. In September 1945, von Braun and his hand-picked team of rocket scientists arrived at an army installation at Fort Bliss, Texas, where they began a life carefully structured, isolated, and controlled by the U.S. government. Their job, called the Hermes project, was to assemble and test the 793,000 pounds (360,000 kg) of V-2 rocket parts captured and shipped in from Germany. The living conditions were similar to those of prisoners on work release. Pay was low and so was morale. Von Braun convinced his associates to continue their work and to do their best because, bad as the future might look then, this was still an ongoing opportunity to try and build a rocket that would travel into space.

Between 1945 and 1950, von Braun's team fired the V-2 s from the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico, a testing complex developed in 1945 for the exclusive purpose of advancing the technology of rocketry. The second rocket launched from White Sands in May 1946 carried in its ample payload compartment, not explosives, but instrumentation to better understand the atmosphere. On that day, the world's first high-altitude rocket began the world's first exploration of space. In October, the first motion-picture camera to be launched aboard a V-2 returned the first black-and-white film of the curvature of the Earth against the black background of space. It was a triumphant moment for science. Ironically, Hitler's device of terror and destruction was now transformed into an instrument of curiosity that could further the growth of space exploration.

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