The Wrong Planet

With the success of the A-4, Hitler decided to use von Braun's rocket as a propaganda weapon and ordered it into production. This was not a small task, and the work went slowly. Shortages of materials

This upward shot of the twin engines of Titan I rocket shows just a small example of the complexity involved in a fully assembled rocket engine. The photo inset is taken of the same rocket engines from a distance. (Photo by Scott McCutcheon)

along with technical and financial delays impeded progress. To put the magnitude of a successfully built rocket into perspective, each rocket had 90,000 parts and was individually hand-crafted. Hitler wanted this complex device ready for mass production and he was growing impatient.

More than 60,000 design changes took place on the rocket until the final device was realized. It stood 46 feet (14 m) high, was 5.5 feet (1.7 m) wide and weighed 28,000 pounds (13,000 kg). On September 8, 1944, the A-4— renamed the V-2 (Vergeltungswaffe 2, or Vengeance Weapon 2)— was launched from a mobile launch platform and the first guided-missile-delivered warhead fell on England, Germany's enemy.

This was the largest and most complex rocket ever built up until that time, and it was just the beginning. A new slave labor camp in the Harz Mountains called Mittelwerk (Central Works) was soon turning out V-2s on an assembly line, producing more than 600 rockets per month. By the time the war ended, Germany had produced nearly 6,000 bomb-packing V-2s, with more than 3,000 of those landing in England, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, causing the deaths of thousands of people. Despite the apparent military success of the V-2, it did not turn the tide of war as Hitler had hoped, and his reign of terror ended in defeat. Fortunately, von Braun's dream of launching a rocket into space did not die.

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