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Wernher Von Braun's 1934 PhD thesis auctioned

Declassified early work of Nazi/NASA rocket granddaddy

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The original classified top-secret PhD thesis of famed Nazi and NASA rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun is to be auctioned in New York today.

Von Braun, as most Reg readers will be aware, grew up in pre-war Germany. In 1934 he wrote a 166-page PhD dissertation on, erm, rocket science. The document won the young Von Braun his doctorate without trouble, but it was considered to be a critical military secret by the Nazi authorities. As a result it didn't get published.

Doktor Von Braun went on to become the leading designer of the German V2 rocket, generally considered to be the first proper ballistic missile. The V2 was well in advance of most other rocket programmes of the era, and gave the Nazis the ability to bombard London unanswerably (though very inaccurately).

The V2 development team and all their files were seized by the Americans at the end of the European war, and Von Braun went to work for the US rocket programme. He eventually became head of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Centre, and was a key figure in the Apollo moonshot programme. The former Waffen-SS officer and grandfather of the US space programme died in 1977.

Von Braun's 1934 thesis was declassified by the Americans in 1960. Until now the original document - complete with its author's handwritten amendments, charts and graphs - remained in possession of one of his old comrades from the Nazis' Peenemunde rocket factory.

"Von Braun's revolutionary dissertation changed the course of world history," said Catherine Williamson of the auctioneers Bonhams, quoted by the Guardian. "It allows the reader a rare glimpse into the beginning of a great career." ®

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