Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Ivy Hill Cemetery and Wernher von Braun

Ivy Hill Cemetery

The thousands of headstones at Alexandria’s Ivy Hill Cemetery are a portal to the city’s rich past.  Here lie descendants of Thomas Jefferson, Union and Confederate soldiers, members of some of the city's oldest families, and the rocket scientist Wernher von Braun.

Dr. Wernher von Braun is best known as the father of the American space program.   His NASA team developed the Redstone booster, which launched America's first satellite, and the giant Saturn V, which launched America’s missions to the Moon.

Although he worked on Nazi military rocket development during the first half of his career, Wernher von Braun claimed his work on military rockets was ultimately motivated by his dream of utilizing the technology for peaceful space exploration. 

In 1949 von Braun wrote a science fiction story, Project Mars: A Technical Tale,  based on detailed science.   He wanted to inspire people to embrace the challenge of human space exploration.  This story was only published some thirty years after his death and fifty seven years after it was written.

Some readers have noted an odd coincidence in this early work of science fiction which relates to today’s foremost proponent of Mars exploration, Elon Musk.  Von Braun writes on page 177, “The Martian government was directed by ten men, the leader of whom was elected by universal suffrage for five years and entitled “Elon.” Two houses of Parliament enacted the laws to be administered by the Elon and his cabinet. The Upper House was called the Council of the Elders and was limited to a membership of 60 persons, each being appointed for life by the Elon as vacancies occurred by death.”

This never-before-printed science fiction novel by the original "rocket man," Wernher von Braun, combines technical fact with a human story line in the way that only a true dreamer can realize. Encompassing the entire story of the journey, this novel moves from the original decision for a Mars mission, through the mission planning, the building of the mighty space ships, the journey, the amazing discoveries made on Mars, and the return home. The author's attention to the actions and feelings of the characters—both those who went and those who stayed behind—makes this an adventure of human proportions, rather than merely another fanciful tale. This exclusive von Braun treasure comes complete with an appendix of his original technical drawings, made in the late 1940s, on which the story's plot is based.

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