Sixty Five Years Ago, America Successfully Launched the Nazis' Favorite War MachineS

The V-2 rocket terrorized the denizens of London throughout the end of World War II. The weapon, built by slave labor, struck the city over a thousand times, killing and injuring several thousand. After the war, it became America's toy.

Once Germany had been pummeled into ruin and submission, America looted the hammer Berlin dropped on Churchill—and the men who'd concocted it. Nazi weapons and Nazi scientists were imported with great fanfare, celebrated as harbingers of the Space Age, just a few short years after they'd aided an attempted destruction of the Allied world.

The decision was not without controversy. Although many American scientists, both federal and university, were eager to tinker with the German killing machines, many were not. Einstein was a particularly outspoken critic of the Nazi hand me downs. But the critics were a minority, and the V-2 rocketed up into American airspace over White Sands, New Mexico, on May 10th, 1946 (having crashed miserably during a prior attempted launch). But even when successful, the V-2 just wasn't that great of a scientific instrument. It was made for war, not measurements.

When it managed to reach zenith without blowing to bits, it would careen back down to earth at supersonic speeds, leaving a crater—not data—in its midst. Not until the US cooked up a sufficient parachute to jettison scientific gear mid-flight was the V-2 of any non-Nazi worth. The V-2's DNA also trickled its way into Atlas and Minuteman missiles, along with the engine systems of the Space Shuttle—rocketry gems considered the pride of Uncle Sam's treasure heap. Odd ancestry for patriotic tech—and not a part of the family album oft-opened.

Photo by Dick Penn