May 11, 2013 11:47 am

This Week, Find Out What You Didn’t Really Know About The Space Program

Bumper V-2 launch at Cape Canaveral, July 24, 1950

The Bumper V-2 was the first missile launched at Cape Canaveral on July 24, 1950. Image Credit: NASA

By the time NASA cancelled the Apollo program, most of America had stopped caring anyway. So it’s easy to assume that the reason they stopped was public indifference and a lack of support for funding.

But what if that wasn’t the reason?

When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into orbit, ushering in the “Space Race,” it is logical to think that the reason Eisenhower started NASA was to put a man in space, and on the moon, before the Russians, to establish US technological and military supremacy.

But what if the former supreme commander of the allied forces in WWII, a military man who’d watched his nation caught by surprise when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, had different concerns than national pride?

When you listen to StarTalk Radio: Space Chronicles Part 1 (available Sunday, 5/12/13 at 7pm ET), the answers may surprise you, or they may not. But one thing is for sure: listening to Prof. John Logsdon, who founded the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, was a member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, and is currently a member of the NASA Advisory Council, and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who runs the Hayden Planetarium, and has served on two presidential commissions, you get the distinct sense that the public wasn’t always on the same page as the government when it comes to the exploration – and exploitation – of space.

Take Operation Paperclip. It was the secret program that brought Nazi German scientists to the United States after World War II. At a time when the world was prosecuting war criminals, and in spite of President Truman’s orders that Paperclip should not recruit former Nazis, the forerunner of the CIA created false records for the scientists and snuck them into the US. Among the Paperclip scientists: Wernher von Braun, the technical director of the German rocket facility at Peenemunde, where his team developed the V-2. Can you guess what the first rocket to ever take off at Cape Canaveral was? Von Braun went on to become the first director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and develop the Saturn V, which took the US to the Moon.

This is just Part 1. I can’t wait to hear Part 2, and find out what else I thought I knew about the exploration of space.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!

–Jeffrey Simons

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