Photos of Earth taken from space are part of everyday life today and nothing unusual in the satellite age. Literally all corners of the earth have been mapped from above. However, the first photo from space was a sensation. The film was shot a year and a half after the end of World War II. The camera was mounted on a captured German V2 rocket, which was still considered a Nazi weapon of terror during World War II.
On October 3, 1942, the first launch of an Aggregat 4, as the rocket was originally called, took place from the test site in Peenemünde. It reached a peak height of 84.6 kilometers and became the first man-made object to push the boundaries of space. The Vergeltungswaffe 2 (V2) was the first large rocket with a liquid engine. There was nothing else in the world that could match the rocket developed by rocket engineer Wernher von Braun.
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Almost 13 tons of take-off mass
It had a takeoff mass of 12.5 tons. The length was 14 meters, the maximum diameter 3.5 meters. It’s supposed to deliver a ton of explosives over 250 kilometers to the target. In 1943, with defeat gradually imminent, Hitler tried to win the war with the “miracle weapons” Fi 103 (which was considered the first cruise missile) and Aggregat 4 (A4) as the first ballistic missile. For propaganda purposes, the Fi 103 was renamed Retaliation Weapon 1 and the A4 Retaliation Weapon 2.
More than 3,200 V2 rockets were fired at cities in England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and later in Germany. The military value was manageable because the missiles rarely hit the intended target. The psychological effect was all the stronger: unlike the V1, there was practically no advance warning because the missile was much too fast. In addition, there were no defenses for an approaching large missile at the time.
The missiles claimed more than 8,000 lives. In addition, they had to be mass-produced under inhumane conditions by forced laborers. Several thousand inmates of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp did not survive the Nazi martyrdom. Tens of thousands had to excavate the tunnel system in Kohnstein and later assemble the missiles.
In the last days of the war, the US captured a lot of V2
On March 29, 1945, an overlong military train fell into the hands of the 3rd US Armored Division at Allendorf-Bromskirchen, Hesse. The train had loaded 9 V2 rockets, mobile launchers and accessories. When the American troops opened fire, the train crew quickly fled. The spoils of war went straight to Antwerp and from there to the US.
On April 11, 1945, the 1st US Armored Division liberated the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. About 100 V2 rockets and a large number of individual parts were found in the Kohnstein tunnel system. American and British units transport the captured V2 parts in 341 wagons. Like the nine missiles from the captured train, the parts went to the White Sands military test site in the US state of New Mexico.
Entry of the German rocket scientists into the US
The designers of the V2, Wernher von Braun and Walter Dornberger stayed with 120 of their closest collaborators in the Allgäu. They surrendered to the 44th Infantry Division of the 7th US Army on May 2, 1945 and were also taken to the US. In the top secret Operation Paperclip, the US wanted to use the findings of the German scientists. On the other hand, the authorities did not look very closely at the Nazi past.
The captured V2 was made operational by the German team and prepared for scientific testing. Dr Ernst Henry Krause, head of the new missile probe research division at the Naval Research Laboratory near Washington DC, co-founded the “V-2 Upper Atmosphere Panel” with interested scientists. The goal was a science program that should develop V2 payloads.
In this context, V2 No. 13 arose on October 24, 1946. She had a DeVry 35mm black and white camera on board. She continuously took a few frames at one and a half second intervals. At the highest point it reached 105 kilometers: following the Kámán line, so just in space. In this definition, it starts at an altitude of 100 kilometers.
Various scientific starts
Other launches have included measuring instruments and experiments, including spectrographs, radio equipment, grain seeds and fruit flies. Even a rhesus monkey named Albert II was launched into space in 1949. Unfortunately, the landing failed: the parachute did not open, Albert II fell and did not survive the adventure.
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The V2 was later given a second stage and the further development was given the name Bumper. It achieved a new altitude record of 403 kilometers in February 1949 and a new speed record of 5260 km/h in May 1950. By 1952, 67 V2 launches had been made.
Wernher von Braun received American citizenship on April 14, 1955. By this time, he had long since developed a V2 successor: the Redstone rocket. Two years later, the Russian satellite Sputnik flew into space and the race for space supremacy began.