|Launch of a V-2 in Peenemünde four seconds after taking off
from test stand, Summer 1943
photo: German Federal Archives
On October 3, 1942, the very first vessel constructed by humans, the ‘Aggregat 4‘ (A4) touched outer space. The liquid-propellant rocket was designed to be the world‘s first long-range combat-ballistic missile, but also the first known human artifact to enter outer space.
Everything began with Wernher von Braun, who acquired a copy of the book ‘Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen‘ (The Rocket into Interplanetary Space) in the late 1920‘s. This books depicts the dissertation by the physicist Hermann Oberth, but it was rejected due to its ‘utopian’ ideas. Von Braun took this as a great motivation and later studied at the Technical University in Berlin. He began working on his dissertation, when the Nazi Party gained power. His thesis on ‘Construction, theoretical, and Experimental Solution‘ was soon kept classified and a team began working on the rockets. In 1934 the group launched two rockets, already reaching heights of 3.5km.
In the following years, the German scientists kept collecting the essential knowledge and technologies to construct the A4. In 1941 the four key technologies turned out to be large liquid-fuel rocket engines, supersonic aerodynamics, gyroscopic guidance, as well as rudders in jet control. Adolf Hitler was really pushing the construction of the A4, in need of a ‘wonder weapon‘ to scare off the enemies as well as to use it as a Propaganda ‘tool‘ for the German citizens.
In August of 1944, Hitler announced the V-2 attacks to begin very soon and in early September the first rocket was launched at Paris. The rocket‘s target was mainly London and later Antwerp, causing huge damages and thousands of deaths. In 2010, scientists reconstructed the V-2, finding out that its detonation creates a 20m wide and 8m deep crater, throwing up 3000 tons of material in the air.
After the war, it was mainly the United States, but also the USSR who tried to gather as much V-2 Material as well as staff as they could. The United States began their first space exploration programs with the V-2. In 1946, the U.S. Military was able to take the first picture from space with the V-2.
At yovisto you can watch original footage from the ‘Heeresversuchsanstalt Peenemünde‘ that documented the state of development of the A4 in October 1942.
References and Further Reading:
- Aggregat 4 Website
- Aggregate in the Wikipedia
- A History of the Dora Camp: The Untold Story of the Nazi Slave Labor Camp That Secretly Manufactured V-2 Rockets: The Untold Story of the Nazi Concentration Camp That Secretly Manufactured V-2 Rockets
Andre Sellier, 2003
- Germanys V-2 Rocket
Gregory P. Kennedy, 2006
More Engineering Articles in the yovisto blog:
- Stephenson’s Rocket wins the Rainhill Trials
- IBM and the Personal Computer
- It’s Computable – thanks to Alonzo Church
- The Man Who Shrank the Globe – Frank Whittle
- It’s a Computer! – The fabulous Commodore Amiga
- A Wire to Connect the World – Stephen Gray’s Discovery