On this day 75 years ago the first V-2 missile was fired successfully from Peenemunde, heralding the start of space travel.
German scientists, led by von Braun, had been working on the development of these long-range missiles since the 1930s.
Three trial launches had already failed; the fourth in the series, known as A-4, finally saw the V-2, a 12-ton rocket capable of carrying a one-ton warhead, successfully launched.
Test Stand VII was the principal V-2 rocket testing facility at Peenemünde Airfield and was capable of static firing of rocket motors up to 200 tons thrust.
Two test launches were recovered by the Allies: the Bäckebo rocket, the remnants of which landed in Sweden on 13 June 1944 and one recovered by the Polish resistance on 30 May 1944 from Blizna and transported to the UK during Operation Most III. The highest altitude reached during the war was 174.6 kilometres (108.5 miles) (20 June 1944).Test launches of V-2 rockets were made at Peenemünde, Blizna and Tuchola Forest, and after the war, at Cuxhaven by the British, White Sands Proving Grounds and Cape Canaveral by the U.S., and Kapustin Yar by the USSR.
The Soviet Army was about 160 km (99 mi) from Peenemünde in the spring of 1945 when von Braun assembled his planning staff and asked them to decide how and to whom they should surrender. Unwilling to go to the Soviets, von Braun and his staff decided to try to surrender to the Americans.
The American high command was well aware of how important their catch was: von Braun had been at the top of the Black List, the code name for the list of German scientists and engineers targeted for immediate interrogation by U.S. military experts.
On June 20, 1945, the U.S. Secretary of State approved the transfer of von Braun and his specialists to America; however, this was not announced to the public until October 1, 1945. Von Braun was among those scientists for whom the U.S. Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency created false employment histories and expunged NSDAP memberships and regime affiliations from the public record. Once “bleached” of their Nazism, the U.S. Government granted the scientists security clearance to work in the United States.
The first seven technicians arrived in the United States at New Castle Army Air Field, just south of Wilmington, Delaware, on September 20, 1945. They were then flown to Boston and taken by boat to the Army Intelligence Service post at Fort Strong in Boston Harbor. Later, with the exception of von Braun, the men were transferred to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to sort out the Peenemünde documents, enabling the scientists to continue their rocketry experiments.
(The first photo from space was taken from a V-2 launched by US scientists on 24 October 1946)
Finally, von Braun and his remaining Peenemünde staff (see List of German rocket scientists in the United States) were transferred to their new home at Fort Bliss, a large Army installation just north of El Paso.