In this edition of worldly Let's talk about the history of space travel. Who does not know the winged statement of Neil Armstrong during his walk on the moon? On July 20, 1969, no fewer than 650 million people were glued to the TV screen to experience the moon landing live. The broadcast broke all records.
Hardly anything appeals to the imagination as much as space travel. Recently, space enthusiasts were even able to register for $250.000 for Virgin Galactic's first commercial space journey.
By the way, you can still sign up for this trip on the Virgin Galactic website (the price is now by auction).
Almost as fascinating as space travel itself is its history. For example, did you know that:
- The first successful rocket launch took place on an island in Nazi Germany.Germany?
- The missiles were intended to bomb cities like London and New York?
- Tens of thousands of POWs died in the production of the missiles?
- America, Soviet Union, France en the UK each had their charm offensive to lure Nazi scientists before the end of World War II?
- Was Soviet space technology leading well into the 1960s?
AND DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU CAN TRAVEL YOURSELF TO THE PLACES THAT MEAN SO MUCH FOR SPACE?
In this blog I travel along 7 MUST SEE PLACES that have been decisive for the history of space travel. The true space enthusiast should not miss them!
Table of contents
1. Peenemünde, Germany (October 3, 1942)
Launch of first long-range missile
The history of space travel begins on October 3, 1942. On that day, scientists manage to launch the first rocket into space from Peenemünde on the German island of Usedom. Under the watchful eye of numerous Nazi leaders, the Aggregat 4 reaches an altitude of 84,5 kilometers at a maximum speed of more than 4.500 km per hour. The rocket would remain in the air for more than three minutes and then plunge into the Baltic Sea. The Aggregat 4 is therefore seen as the first long-range rocket.
Peenemünde, production and testing facility V2
Peenemünde on the island of Usedom in the Baltic Sea serves as the main test and production site for the Aggregat 1936 from 1943 to August 4. The Nazis then change the name of Aggregat 4 to Vergeltungswaffe 2 (V2).
The British get wind of the Nazis' advances in missile technology. In the night of 17-18 August 1943 they carry out a largely unsuccessful bombing raid on Peenemünde. Most bombs fall on the residential barracks of the prisoners of war. The Nazis immediately move rocket production to a mine in Nordhausen near Buchenwald.
Peenemünde belongs to the fall of the wall to East Germany. In 1991 a magnificent museum is established on the site of the former missile base. In the open air are many artifacts from the Second World War, such as a replica of the V2. Inside is an impressive exhibition about the rocket scientists.
Click here for the website of the Historical Technical Museum in Peenemünde
Also elsewhere on the island of Usedom there are many historical sites that can be visited. You can visit two residential barracks of prisoners of war and the oxygen factory. Also take a look at Karlshagen. The rocket scientists lived in this seaside resort. There is a cemetery with a mass grave for the 2.000 POWs who lost their lives during the bombing of Peenemünde.
2. Dora/Mittelbau & Buchenwald, Germany (August 1943 – April 1945)
New location for the V2: Dora/Mittelbau
After the bombing of Peenemünde, Von Braun and his associates move production to a mine near Nordhausen. Until then, the mine was used as a fuel storage facility for the Wehrmacht. The area is used as a labor camp Mittelbau Dora, a branch of the nearby Buchenwald concentration camp.
As in Peenemünde, the production of the V2 is in the hands of prisoners of war. In Dora they work under appalling conditions. Of the 60.000 workers, an estimated 20.000 will be killed, a pitch black period in the history of space travel.
The site of Dora now houses a memorial and a museum. You can visit the museum and walk around the tunnel system with a guide. Many remnants of the missiles are still present.
Click here for the website of Mittelbau Dora Memorial (in English)
Buchenwald Concentration Camp
The Dora mines are located near the Buchenwald concentration camp. Almost all prisoners of war who were put to work in Dora came from Buchenwald. The former Buchenwald concentration camp is now a memorial site and museum.
Click here for the Buchenwald Memorial website (in English)
3. Huntsville, Alabama
A new chapter in the history of space travel is coming. US intelligence begins Operation Paperclip at the end of the war. This top-secret operation aims to bring as many German scientists as possible to the United States. In total, more than 1.600 German scientists leave for America.
In late 1945, a number of German rocket scientists are stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas. There they are initially working on an upgrade of the V2. Test launches are taking place at nearby White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico.
Failed V2 Rocket Launch, White Sands Proving Grounds
In April 1950, 200 scientists led by Wernher von Braun moved from Fort Bliss to Huntsville, Alabama. There they fight the Russians, who in 1957 are the first to succeed in putting the satellite Sputnik 1 into orbit. The Space Race is a fact. America will do everything it can to win the battle for space.
Speech Kennedy on May 25, 1961: to the moon
In 1958, NASA was founded for this purpose. NASA chooses Cape Canaveral as its launch site, Houston as its control and training center and Huntsville as its rocket technology development base. In 1961, President Kennedy formulated the ultimate goal of the space race: The first man on the moon.
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville will be headed by Wernher von Braun. The ex-Nazi manages to impress the American people and grows into a folk hero.
The moon mission was a regular topic of conversation for over a decade. The music industry was also involved with countless songs about a trip to the moon and space travel. The 1954 evergreen 'Fly me to the moon' was released in 1964 in a version by Frank Sinatra. It became a worldwide hit.
Fly me to the moon, Frank Sinatra, 1964
Huntsville calls itself 'Rocket City' these days and is a thriving tech city, which owes much to its Rocket Man: Wernher von Braun.
The US Space and Rocket Center has been located in Huntsville since 1970. A visit to this museum is an absolute must for every space travel enthusiast. You can easily spend a whole day there (note the opening times; closed on Mondays). There is really plenty to do for children.
Click here for the US Space and Rocket Center website.
US Space & Rocket Center commercial
4. Moscow, Russia (from 1945)
The Superior Soviet Scientists
Like the Americans, the Soviets compete for the favors of the Nazi scientists. The Soviets have an advantage here, because the facilities for research and production of the V2 are concentrated in Nordhausen. That area was liberated by the Soviets and is located in East Germany after the war.
Ultimately, a group of 170 German scientists participate in the Soviet missile program. The Germans' knowledge of the V2 technology proves to be of crucial importance to the Soviet Union's aerospace successes. In 1957, the Russians are the first to succeed in orbiting an artificial satellite. Russia is therefore in the history of space travel in the books as the country that first realized a real space flight.
Yuri Gagarin, the great hero of the Soviet Union
The success of the Sputnik is the prelude to the Space Race. With the Russians initially leading the way. For example, the dog Laika is sent into orbit in the Sputnik 1957 in September 2. According to President Khrushchev, Laika proved to be a good communist because he barked every time he flew over the US. In reality, Laika died after just a few hours from overheating.
The Soviet Union scores another resounding victory on April 12, 1961 when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin succeeds in orbiting the Earth in Vostok 1. Yuri Gagarin will thereafter attain saint status throughout the Soviet Union. All countries of the former Soviet Union still honor the cosmonaut with street names and statues, among other things.
By the way, American astronauts are called astronauts, while their Russian colleagues pass for cosmonauts.
Space Sights in Moscow
After the dismantling of the Soviet Union, Russia continue their space program under the name Roscosmos. In the year 2000 an international collaboration will follow in the form of the International Space Station Program (ISS).
The history of space travel from a Russian perspective is fully covered in the Museum of the Cosmonauts in Moscow. For real die-hards there is the possibility to take a tour of the house of Sergei Korolev, the Russian 'Rocket Man'.
Click here for the website of Museum of Cosmonauts
Baikonur Launch Base
Since 1955, the Russians have been using by far the largest space station in the world: the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Baikonur is located in a steppe 200 km from the Aral Sea and has an area of no less than 90 by 85 km.
Since 1991, the station has been leased from Kazakhstan and it is even possible to witness a launch. On the website of Baikonur Cosmodrome Tours you can check the schedule and book a visit.
Click here for more information about visiting Baikonur and attending a launch
Launch Baikonur: Vostok 1 with Yuri Gagarin, April 12, 1961
5. Cape Canaveral Space Force Station/Kennedy Space Center, Florida (1949)
Cape Canaveral in Florida has been in use as a space launch site since 1949. Virtually all space missions are launched from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and, since 1962, also from the adjacent John F. Kennedy Space Center.
Kennedy Space Center
A visit to the Kennedy Space Center guarantees a full day of space travel. The rocket garden houses some of the most famous rockets in American space history. A Mercury-Redstone 3 rocket launched an entire nation's ambitions in 1961, when Alan Shepard completed the US's first manned spaceflight. NASA's Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs are also represented in this garden of giants, not only as engineering feats, but also as a tribute to the scientists and engineers who made spaceflight dreams a reality. Be guided through the history of early rocket science on daily tours by an aerospace expert. You can also book VIP seats for launches on the website.
Click here for the Kennedy Space Center website
Kennedy Space Center commercial
Coming SpaceX and Space Launch System (SLS)
In 2012, a new period in the history of space travel will begin. NASA is adapting the Kennedy Space Center for the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion. In addition, also came SpaceX VAN Elon Musk on site, the first commercial party. Not much later, Boeing also came for the assembly of the Starliner CST-100 and X-37B in the halls of the former Orbiter Processing Facility.
Small space startups
Land is also made available to space companies for small space startups. Blue Origin began construction on a rocket factory at Kennedy Space Center in 2016. This is where the New Glenn and New Armstrong missiles will be built and maintained. Internet satellite company OneWeb is building a factory there where they will produce satellites. This is part of the Exploration Park program, a partnership between NASA and Space Florida to bring commercial space companies to the Kennedy Space Center.
Firefly Aerospace has agreed with Space Florida to build a rocket factory at Exploration Park in 2019. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the company that runs the US laboratory on the ISS space station, is also located at the Kennedy Space Center.
6. Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas (1963)
The Manned Spacecraft Center was commissioned by NASA in 1963. All manned space flights are guided from Houston. In 1967, the center gets its official nickname: 'Space City'. And in 1973 the name is changed to Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.
Houston, we have a problem
Space Center Houston Museum
The Space Center Houston is the museum located on the massive complex. Like the Kennedy Space Center, the museum stands for a day of space exploration fun.
Click here for the website of Space Center Houston
7. Cosmosphere, Huntchison, Kansas
Arguably the world's best museum of the history of space travel is located in Huntington, Kansas. The museum once started with a private collection of Patty Carey. She wanted to share her passion for space with others. Successively, the museum expanded its collection and managed to seize unique collections of NASA. Around the fall of the Soviet Union, the museum struck again and bought many valuable artifacts from Soviet space travel.
What makes the museum so unique is the fact that the history of space travel has been viewed through neutral glasses. The Nazi history and the controversial position of Wernher von Braun are discussed in detail. The geopolitical interests are also clearly explained.
Click here for the website of Cosmosphere
Live broadcasts of launches
Nowadays many launches can be followed live on the internet. All known launches are shown on Rocketlaunch.live and on space.com there is a lot of information and images.
Click here for the website of rocketlaunch.live with dates of all landings and links to any live broadcasts.
Click here for the website of space.com, another website with lots of space news and lots of data and videos about launches.
Seen a mistake? Ask? Remark? Let us know in the comments!