50 Years of Rockets



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                                     By Ed Buckbee

To motivate, you must communicate.  No one has taken this to heart any more than has Wernher von Braun.  In my lifetime I’ve never seen anyone as adept in sharing a vision. Sharing, for von Braun, meant getting his audience to believe in his vision; to assume it as his or her own and become part of it.

 Have you ever hung onto every word of a speech or scanned text eagerly from page to page? I have. My co-workers at Marshall Space Flight Center have. Aerospace leaders have. Congressmen have.  The President of the United States has.  Each of us has been in the audience of von Braun. As orator, author and editor, von Braun employed his communication prowess to advance the dream of landing man on the moon.  

Von Braun combined his natural communication skills with disciplined deadlines and regular follow-up to bring out the same skills in his Marshall team. The result was a very motivated, cohesive group and an impressive collection of weekly notes—about 10,000 pages--all read by von Braun!  

 I’ve no doubt that if von Braun were alive today; he would be tweeting, texting, emailing and video-conferencing with his team and partners, all on a regular basis. A further thought, had he been with us over these last several years, perhaps those texts and emails would reveal that man had already established a Mars colony and journeyed even further to advance the space frontier.

 In the documentary, you will meet Wernher von Braun as you hear from the people who worked closely with him. Study his personal notes and meet his extraordinary rocket team. Witness one of the memorable Saturn firings at von Braun’s rocket factory. Share in the vision.

Sample quotes within the Weekly notes:

To Walter Haeussermann  who has replied with a negative report : “I guess I haven’t  had  any notes from Astrionics for  3 or  4 weeks. Have you stopped working, has your placed burned down or is it that you simply have no problems?” --------Wernher von Braun

 To Hans Maus, concerning doing work for NASA-Houston:

“Do we get reimbursed for this work? Houston (NASA) never misses an opportunity to put their hand in our pocket. I think we should reciprocate.” -------------------------------------------Wernher von Braun

 To his Deputy, Harry Gorman being informed Marshall Space Flight Center may have a janitorial strike: “Get me a  broom. I’ll sweep my own office.”----------Wernher von Braun

 To: Werner Kuers, requesting a briefing on the latest development in rocket fabrication: “Request a briefing on this subject by the most knowledgeable people we have.  Please arrange.”-----------Werhner von Braun

 To Fred Cline regarding a report that an employee’s failure to recognize a corrosion material: “Who goofed? Please see to it that procedures are tightened. P.S. I’m not interested in name of culprit. I am interested in steps to prevent recurrence.” -----Wernher von Braun

To Jim Bramlet/Matt Urland when informed that Boeing had submitted a Saturn V booster change order for several million dollars: “What’s going on here?? If Boeing keeps operating like this, we’ll be broke in no time!----------------------------------------Wernher von Braun

 To Karl Heimberg when informed delivery of   moon rocket engines was delayed: “Just to remind you that you are on the Critical Path,” ------Wernher von Braun

A signed DVD is now available for the cost of $14.95, postage and handling included.  Purchase both, the book and DVD, for the cost of $59.95, postage and handling included.

Checks payable to:

Ed Buckbee

47 Revere Way

Huntsville, AL 35801



U. S. manned space flight began in the Rocket City, Huntsville, Alabama. It’s the home of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, world’s premier rocket center.

The men and women, who made up the Marshall team, tell their story in,  “50 Years of Rockets and Spacecraft.” It’s an exciting space history lesson beginning with Alan Shepard’s flight on the Mercury -Redstone and continuing with Saturn rocket rides to the moon, Skylab, Space Shuttle, International Space Station, Hubble, Ares and the future.

Wernher von Braun’s personal Weekly Notes, recently discovered in the archives, are published and reviewed for the first time. One can feel the passion, the dedication and commitment that team members demonstrated on a daily basis following what von Braun often referred to as the “critical path” to the moon.

The book contains personal behind the scenes stories told by the men and woman who made critical decisions to send American astronauts on journeys into space and on to the moon. The stories range from humorous anecdotes to gut -wrenching decisions required to safely flying humans to this new frontier.

50 Years of Rockets and Spacecraft is the Marshall team’s story--first-person account--of the dramatic and historic space flight accomplishments that have taken place at the world’s premier rocket center.

The book is 9" x 12", 225 pages, color section and hundreds of black & white photos of the Saturn-Apollo era of manned space flight

A signed copy of the book is now available for the cost of $49.95, postage and handling included.  Purchase both, the book and DVD, for the cost of $59.95, postage and handling included.

Checks to be made payable to:

Ed Buckbee

47 Revere Way

Huntsville, AL 35801


review by frederick i. ordway iii

             This attractive, well-illustrated, and professionally edited book by Ed Buckbee should attract an audience beyond those of us who had the honor of working at the NASA-George C. Marshall Space Flight Center. For members of the National Space Society, the linkage is profound: the founding president of the precursor National Space Institute and the founding director of NASA-Marshall are one and the same: the late Wernher von Braun. And well beyond the NSS community, historians and space aficionados alike will find much to savor in 50 Years of Rockets & Spacecraft.

            Let’s see what feasts editor Buckbee has prepared for us.

            If you look at the inside front cover and opposing page, you will find a fascinating  chronology of the Marshall Center from 1957 to 2009 in parallel to that of the local Huntsville community. There then follows Ed Buckbee’s introduction and a series of letters from the current Marshall director Robert M. Lightfoot, the president of the Marshall retirees Association Jim Splawn, Congressman Bud Cramer, Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, and a letter written back in May1970 by the late Ernst Stuhlinger—then Associate Director for Science--to Sister Mary Jucunda who was a nun working with children in Zambia. In it he elegantly explained how society could justifiably spend billions on space exploration when people were starving in many parts of the world. That letter has become a classic.

            A twenty-page array of color photographs follows depicting major events in the history of the Marshall Center plus a set of organizational charts, one showing the initial management structure back in 1960 with black-and-white photographs of each supervisory individual.

            We move on to several chapters entitled “The Early Years,” “The Saturn Program,”, “Post Apollo and Skylab: 1970-75,” “Science in Space,” “The Space Shuttle,” “Spacelab,” “Into the ‘90s…and Beyond,” “Ares Projects,” and “A New Age of Exploration.” This is the scientific-technological core of the book, a must read for space historians in our country and abroad.

            “An “In Memoriam” consists of short essays on leading figures associated with the von Braun rocket team who are no longer with us. Disclosure: I wrote the entry on Ernst Stuhlinger whom I’d known and worked with since the mid-1950s. Next in line: short biographies of all Marshall directors from von Braun (1960-1970) to Robert M. Lightfoot, Jr. who followed David A. King in March 2009.

            A fine tribute to Wernher von Braun written by Ernst Stuhlinger opens a new section of the book that continues with a year-by-year illustrated history of the von Braun era from 1951 to 1970. The von Braun team had arrived from Fort Bliss, Texas and White Sands, New Mexico during 1950 where, for the next ten years, they would work as civilian employees of the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps on Redstone Arsenal. It is not always appreciated that the first American artificial satellite, Explorer 1, was orbited by the team working under the aegis of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency.

            Ed Buckbee has put together a delightful, and often humorous, reproduction of Wernher von Braun weekly “Notes” with an insightful introduction. It turns out that NASA-Marshall historian Mike Write had located and collected the notes from the National Archives. We learn that the deadline for delivery of the notes, original and two copies to the Office of the Director—von Braun—was ll:30 AM each Monday. Jerry McCall, von Braun’s assistant, emphasized to those on the distribution list that “…late NOTES will not be accepted.” Moreover, “…a “NEGATIVE” NOTE is required if no information is to be presented.” Ed Buckbee writes that “After reading nearly 10,000 documents—eight years of von Braun’s career—there is no question that he was the leader of the Marshall Team, forever mentor, mediator and decision-maker. His leadership was never questioned.”

            Let’s look at a few of the dozens of notes reproduced, most of which are serious but a few quite humorous.

            One of the latter that I particularly enjoyed was dated 11-13-61 (Gorman)—Harry H. Gorman, Associate Deputy Director Administration: “A meeting has been set for November 15 between Maintenance, Inc (our janitorial contractor) and the steel workers union…There is the possibility of a strike sometime in the future…There is nothing we can do as far as we know.” Von Braun’s reply:” Get me a broom! I’ll sweep my own office. B” (von Braun’s standard notes’ signature). Another: On not hearing from Walter Haeussermann, director of the Guidance & Control Division, von Braun queried: “I guess I haven’t had any notes…for 3 or 4 weeks. Have you stopped working, has your place burned down, or is it that you simply have no problems? B”

            Now it’s time for some stories from the insiders—members of the von Braun team at Marshall. These are reminiscences carrying such titles as” First Launch,” “How I Stumbled Into the Early Days of the Space Program,”  “New York to Huntsville in the 1950s” (disclosure: my essay), “Adequate Housing,” “From Co-op to Rocketeer,” “How Early Space Launch Vehicles Got Shiny Tails,” “Recollections of the Director’s Secretary,” “It’s Not That Simple,” “To the Cape by Barge,” “Devine Guidance,” “Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) Navigation and Control,” “We Lived the Dream” and “ and “Small Steps to a Space Station.”

            Ed Buckbee’s own “Moonlight Requisition of the Saturn V” I s wonderful. It had to do with transferring a Saturn V from government property to the new Alabama Space & Rocket Center for display—by then Buckbee was serving as the first director. There being no formal approval for such a move, von Braun and Buckbee came up with the idea that it was to be considered a training exercise—the transport of a major rocket system from one site to another. According to Buckbee, von Braun reasoned that “it is much easier to ask for forgiveness than request permission”—from NASA headquarters.  Elements from unflown Saturn Vs had to be scrounged from many places around the country. Once assembled at Marshall, on 27 June 1969 the Saturn Vs stages and Apollo command and service modules “were moved the five mile trek [to the Alabama Space & Rocket Center] within a day…the largest move of space hardware in the history of NASA.”  Today, the completely restored Saturn V-500 D/F rests in the Davidson Center for Space Exploration.

            Ed Buckbee’s ambitious volume winds up with a roster of Marshall retirees, an index and, adorning the endpapers, the Apollo mission emblems surrounding a photograph of the lunar module and lunar roving vehicle with Apollo 15 astronaut Jim Irwin saluting the American flag.                                                                 

            After reading this handsome volume, instead of placing it in my bookshelf I gently laid it down on the living room coffee table. There it remains, ready at any time for browsing and reminiscing. 50 Years of Rocket & Spacecraft had become a friend.


                                                            Frederick I. Ordway III is a member of the Board

                                                            of Governors of the National Space Society.





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