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Nazis did not have space program just rocket program

June 16, 2011 - Washington

There have been many theories about the Nazis having a space program, but according to a Smithsonian space history curator, the Third Reich only had a rocket program.

Michael Neufeld, the curator, said the two are not the same, as a rocket program dealt with building weapons only.

"This is a typical misunderstanding. People equate a rocket program with a space program, and the German rocket program was about building weapons only," Discovery News quoted Neufeld as saying.

"That was the only reason Nazi Germany supported rocketry. Their objective was to build the V-2 and, if possible in the future, larger and longer-range weapons," he explained.

The Nazis held power from 1933 until the German's surrender in 1945, and there had been very little scientific activity that took place that did not directly benefit the war effort.

Even if German scientists such as Wernher von Braun dreamed of purely scientific space exploration, the only outlet for their skills was in the development of rocket-propelled weapons.

"They recognized the follow-on to the weapons program would be space exploration," von Braun biographer Bob Ward said.

"Eventually, there would be a space program, and this was the route that had to be travelled, through the military, to advance the technology.

"But I don't think the German power structure had any plans for a space program," he revealed.

Neufeld said that German space zeal did not take root during Nazi rule, but prior to it in the 1920s and early '30s. That was when German theorists, such as Hermann Oberth, wrote about the feasibility of space travel.

"Then the Nazis came into power and started throwing money at military rocketry," Neufeld said.

After the war, German rocket scientists went on to play important roles in both the American and Soviet space programs. The charismatic and highly articulate von Braun became a driving force at NASA.

In doing so, however, he may have also helped fuel the myth of the Nazi space program.


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