Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Chautauqua: Wernher von Braun

We attended the traditional Chautauqua June festival.  We were excited to get to hear Wernher von Braun.  We went back in time to 1973 just after he left NASA and became VP of Fairchild Industries.

Dr. von Braun explained how the stages of the Saturn rockets worked as they blasted from Earth and into the atmosphere and space.  He showed us how the space capsule and lunar rover interacted to get man to the moon.  It was very interesting.

He told us how heart breaking it was to lose the crew of Apollo 1 and what mistakes were made and how they were fixed before another mission was to take place.  He explained how he personally knew every astronaut.  He reminded us that each man in the program knew and accepted the risks that space travel held.  They would not want to put on hold the mission and that the mission continued toward the moon landing.

Dr. von Braun answered many questions from the audience.  Many concerning his years during the Nazi regime.  He was a fresh out of university and his country offered him a position in his field to pursue rocketry.  Yes, he knew the rockets/missals were going to be used in war.  However, he did not have much choice as to how his rockets were used.  He told us that in the last days of the war, he and one hundred of his colleagues forged documents to travel across Germany and surrender to American forces.  They took as much documentation and work as they could and buried vital equipment for the Americans to find later.

When asked why he worked for the Nazis, he did not answer directly.  He answered in terms of the current situation with Vietnam.  He told us that if he were a young man at this time and his number was chosen for the draft, he would not run from his duty to country.  He would not dodge the draft, he would serve.  For it was his country that called and he did his duty.  I found that quite interesting, the parallel.  He didn't want his rockets used to destroy mankind, he just wanted to reach space.

Why did he mention all these things?  His running theme for his talk was:  What price are citizens willing to pay to expand across new horizons? To seek new discoveries? To create a new future for us all? What rewards do we insist upon to justify the dangers inevitably created?

We use to embrace risk and test limits, as a people, as a nation.  During Dr. von Braun's lecture, I thought about how we have allowed fear and insistence of 100% safety to limit us in our quest of adventure.  I wandered what he would have thought about our space shuttle program being halted and the reliance of other countries to send our men and women into space.  We have become a nation that avoids risks and with that we have lost an edge.

Larry Bounds depicted Wernher von Braun in the Chautauqua portrayal.  His performance was excellent.  He made the audience forget that this was a performance and allowed them to experience a portal to the past.

We were very privileged to get to attend the event and learn more about von Braun.