The cost of robotic, unmanned missions is estimated to be between 10 to 100 times cheaper than manned ones. Bush posited, however, that keeping humans alive in outer space was cheaper than getting them there:
“Establishing an extended human presence on the moon could vastly reduce the cost of further space exploration, making possible ever more ambitious missions. Lifting heavy spacecraft and fuel out of the Earth’s gravity is expensive. Spacecraft assembled and provisioned on the moon could escape its far-lower gravity using far less energy and thus far less cost.”
“Also the moon is home to abundant resources,” the president said at NASA headquarters. “Its soil contains raw materials that might be harvested and processed into rocket fuel or breathable air.”
Does ‘harvesting’ Moon dirt with the hope to make rocket fuel or breathable air justify the breathtaking costs of such an endeavor? One of Constellation’s greatest weaknesses, according to critics, is that it has no realistic goals that would concretely benefit mankind, such as global warming work, other than just humans getting to the Moon and Mars. Even if NASA explorers can figure a way to breath Moon dirt and fuel their rockets with it, they’ll still have to deal with the radiation.
Bush’s new vision was actually a co-opted old vision of one of Hitler’s favorite SS officers, Wernher von Braun. Captured at the end of World War II with 120 fellow German rocket scientists, von Braun became a NASA legend.
The “Bowl” rocket test stands built at the astronomically polluted Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Ventura County California are duplicates of von Braun’s V-2 stands in Germany and can still be seen from the San Fernando Valley today.
Constellation’s concept was envisioned by von Braun with a series of articles in eight issues of Collier’s magazine starting in March 1952. They laid out von Braun’s vision of using a fully reusable multi-stage rocket, the conceptual precursor of the Space Shuttle, to construct a huge space station.
The floating lab envisioned by von Braun would make civilian and military observations of Earth, conduct experiments in zero-gravity and build spaceships for travel to the Moon and beyond. The last installment of the magazine articles had humans traveling to Mars.
The Collier’s series was handsomely illustrated and so charmed the public that von Braun became a television darling. Walt Disney asked von Braun to help him design Disneyland’s “Tomorrow Land” exhibit.
The former Wehrmacht Major is one of the inspirations for the titular character in the 1964 black comedy film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, Dr. Strangelove is played maniacally by Peter Sellers as a mad German rocket scientist in a wheelchair, half-paralyzed with an out-of-control right arm given to Nazi salutes or strangling himself, all the while addressing the President character, also played by Sellers, as “Mein Fuhrer.”
Von Braun’s background was no laughing matter, however, and torturing animals to help fulfill his space vision is heavy with historic irony. Before von Braun became an icon in the space program, his weapons killed thousands of civilians and slaves.
In “Bowled Over,” we examined von Braun’s most terrifying invention, the Nazi V-2:
The V-2, or Vergeltungswaffe 2, was the first ballistic missile to reach sub-orbital spaceflight and was the forerunner of modern rockets. Over 3,000 V-2s were launched at Allied targets by the German Wehrmacht in World War II, killing an estimated 7,250 military personnel and civilians, mostly in London.
Over 20,000 Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp inmates died constructing V-2s, with 9000 dying from exhaustion alone. Around 350 of these Nazi slaves were hanged, including 200 for sabotage, with the remainder shot or dying from disease and starvation. Von Braun, an officer in the Waffen-SS from May 1940 until the end of the war when he escaped with 120 scientists to surrender to the Americans, admitted working at the V-2 plant many times but denied ever visiting the nearby concentration camp.
However, von Braun disclosed in an August 15, 1944 letter to the manager of V-2 production that he personally selected labor slaves from the Buchenwald concentration camp to work at the rocket factory, slaves he described 25 years later in an interview as being in “pitiful shape.”
Equally at home in photographs with Hitler and Himmler as well as presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, von Braun’s work on the Apollo Space Program earned him the National Medal of Science from President Ford in 1977.
The Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp supplied slave labor for Nordhausen missile works, where prisoners were fed a single piece of bread a day and literally worked to death. Nazi aviation doctors suffocated gypsies in pressure chambers and force-fed Jews nothing but seawater for weeks in gruesome experiments to determine what pilots could endure.
Von Braun was not the only Nazi among the 765 German scientists imported to the United States between 1945 and 1955. Approximately 80% of these men were members of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party. Nor were scientists the only Nazi export harvested during America’s Operation Paperclip which continued until 1973,. America brought the darker legacy of Nazi Germany with it returning home.