Where the Space Age Really Began

V-2 launch
V-2 launch

On Oct. 3, 1942, space history was made in Germany. The first successful ballistic missile launch was achieved by Wernher von Braun and his team at Peenemunde, Germany. An A-4 rocket lifted off from Peenemunde, reaching an altitude of nearly 90 km (56 miles) before re-entering and crashing into the Baltic Sea about 190 km (118 miles) from its secret launch site.

At a raucous celebration that evening, von Braun’s boss, Col. Walter Dornberger, declared, “Do you realize what we accomplished today….This afternoon the spaceship was born!”

It wasn’t exactly a spaceship. The A-4 was a weapon of war. Two years later, V-2s — as the rocket had been renamed — began raining down on London, Antwerp and other Allied cities. By the end of the war, 3,200 missiles had been fired at enemy targets.

More than 5,000 died in the attacks. The casualties among those who assembled the V-2s was even higher. Ten thousand concentration camp laborers died in the underground caverns at the main Mittlewerk assembly facility. Thousands of others perished at other V-2 manufacturing facilities.

After the war, von Braun and a team of engineers were recruited by the United States. Other German engineers went to the Soviet Union and other countries.

The V-2 would form the basis for post-war rockets that launched satellites into orbit and men to the moon. Ballistic missiles have also kept the world on the edge of a nuclear precipice for more than half a century.

If you ever wondered where the Space Age really began, it didn’t start with Sputnik on Oct. 4, 1957. It began 15 years and one day earlier at a top secret military base on the Baltic Coast by a team working to make Adolf Hitler the master of Europe.