Skip to main content

His 100th Birthday

March 23rd was Wernher von Braun's 100th birthday. The US Space and Rocket Center has been gearing up for the celebration with their informative exhibit (open until May), and a few guest speakers. This post is my own reflection from one of the recent lectures.

Last week the "F" and I had a unique opportunity to learn more about my beloved Dr. Wernher von Braun through a thick German accent spilling the priceless memories of working for and with the late rocket scientist. Dr. Jesco von Puttkamer, a proud member of NASA for 50+ years, painted a beautiful picture of von Braun's personality and leadership style. He described a man known for never saying a hurtful word and being humble enough to visit blue collar workers and inquire about their job duties. His management style was a careful balance of delegation where the delegates had authority to make tough decisions.

My favorite memory Dr. von Puttkamer shared was about the beginning of his own career. He talked about corresponding with von Braun via letter from Prussia to America asking advice for college courses in the hopes of one day working with von Braun.Von Braun would always reply with good advice. Von Puttkamer described writing a specific letter to von Braun following his graduation from college with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

"I wrote to von Braun saying that I wanted to immigrate to America since the Aerospace jobs in Germany were slim. I basically said that I would immigrate to America and plan to work in industry for a few years since I was a greenhorn. Then after gaining experience I hoped to meet up with him and his team to build rockets."

A few weeks later von Puttkamer received a telegram from von Braun.

The telegram was very short and said:

Don't go to industry.
Come to Huntsville.
We are going to the moon.
-von Braun

As Puttkamer was telling us this story (remember, with a thick German accent), I couldn't help but feel a rush of excitement, for him and for the nation.

Wernher was so incredibly talented, but yet so incredibly personable. There is no doubt his management style "got the job done", and how might NASA's outlook be different now if someone had as much charisma as Dr. von Braun? I am completely onboard with von Braun's leadership and managerial style. It is in line with my morals and my personality and my limited experience with leading groups. It is not a question of being a "pushover", it's more about working for a person you ENJOY working for, and someone you know respects your position, whatever it might be. I don't know the climate of NASA's leadership, I don't work for NASA. But I do know we are losing right now, we are losing a national vision for space flight.

Dr. von Puttkamer mentioned one more nugget of knowledge worth sharing. Of course he is biased to support spaceflight, "But really," he said, "America just needs something scientifically stimulating, something which challenges our current knowledge, but more importantly, inspires young people to work hard in math and science fields." He's right. And as much as I would love that inspiration to blossom from America's human spaceflight ventures, the truth is we are in a desperate situation right now. We need something other than health care debates and economy downers to light the flame for the next generation.

Dr. Jesco von Puttkamer shares his memories last week at the US Space and Rocket Center.
Who will step up to accept the challenge von Braun indirectly delivered? Someone has to...and soon!


  1. Nerdy April,

    You will be glad to know that someone I work with knows all about Wernher von Braun. She had to do a paper on him while she was in high school. She was very impressed that someone else knew who he was. How great is that!

    Aunt Vicki


Post a Comment

Who has two thumbs and loves comments? Nerdy April!!! Type one out and hit publish!

Popular posts from this blog

MCM - Certified Mom

This morning I woke up early, the baby monitor was chirping just a few minutes before my alarm was set to go off. Chris graciously rolled out of bed and set out to re-insert Otto's paci. Meanwhile, I pressed my clothes, curled my hair and brewed some coffee - my standard pre-console routine. After a quick breakfast Zara peeped her head over the railing and I heard a gentle "mama" echo down the stairs. It was still dark, but this little one was ready for her daily breakfast of oatmeal and milk in preparation for a fun day at swim lessons and school. As she sat, eating her "oatsss" (as she calls them), I whirled around the kitchen prepping bottles, gathering outfits for school, and ensuring all the swim lesson supplies were set out. It's hard leaving Chris to take care of both kids in the morning (#momguilt) so I try my best to complete as many get-ahead tasks as possible, in hopes his morning goes smoothly. 
This morning schedule description may seem mundan…

MCM - On Call

It's definitely Monday. Otto spit up on my work clothes this morning, I forgot to brush my teeth and I sat down in my car forgetting to clean the layer of sand from the beach yesterday. Whoops. But, it's also MONDAY!!!!! Which means you get a special look behind the proverbial curtain of Mission Control in a series I'm dubbing "Mission Control Monday". We all need a little "boost" (pun intended) at the beginning of the week, so why not get it from the heart of Manned Spaceflight itself - NASA's Mission Control
This week I am highlighting the little known fact that sometimes, as an ADCO Specialist, I am scheduled to be "On Call". It just so happens I am "on-call" this week! Even though we don't have a sweet 1990's pager, the ADCO on-call is a Specialist with the cumbersome responsibility of having their cell phone strapped to them at all times. Yes, even during the night. Yes, even when you have a 3 month old. Yes, just…

Experience the Kennedy Space Center

Manned spaceflight is not a challenge forged from one molten idea - it's not a put-this-in get-that-out equation - it's not a sport for the isolationists. The notion that it was "one man's passion" or "one nation's resources" that got us to this engineering moment is simply false. And the idea that alienation could ever lead to exploration is impossible. There is likely no other industry or singular goal so intentional about teamwork - from employing teachers to technicians, soliciting standard to specialized natural resources, planning short term and long, investing in ideas and inspiration, training fresh-outs to experts, and communicating technically and politically. Tangibly, the manned spaceflight challenge crosses borders and age and gender, there are pieces of its presence spanning the entire globe, and beyond! 
One of those spots - notable for it's history as the last piece of Earth many astronauts touched before launch - is the Kennedy…
01 09 10