When we talk about going to Mars in this present day and age, the first and only name that comes to mind is Elon Musk. However, this is not the first time the name Elon has been associated with Mars. Wernher von Braun was a German aerospace engineer responsible for the development of one of Nazi Germany’s most advanced weapons, the V-2 rocket. It was the first long-range guided ballistic missile in the world.
Von Braun was an avid astronomer and was passionate about rockets from an early age. He got a doctorate in aerospace engineering in 1934 from the University of Berlin and his thesis “Construction, Theoretical, and Experimental Solution to the Problem of the Liquid Propellant Rocket,” was classified by the army and wasn’t made available to the public until 1960.
The German army recruited him immediately and he began developing rocket weapons. He was stationed at a military research facility where he oversaw experiments with liquid-fueled rocket engines and jet-assisted aircraft takeoffs. It was here he developed the famous V2 missile.
The scientist knew that the production plants used forced labour but he was allegedly unaware of the true nature of the Nazi concentration camps. Reportedly, he only visited the facility once and was satisfied with the treatment of the employees.
Von Braun was accused of secretly cooperating with Communists is 1944 and was arrested by the SS. His crimes were never proved so he was conditionally released and continued working on the development of ballistic missiles. However, the scientist was plotting his escape to the US and managed to escape to Austria and surrender to the US Army in 1945.
Von Braun was one of the 1,500 German scientists secretly transported to the US. As he expressed his disgust towards the Nazi regime and was a pioneering scientist, he was employed by the US Army and starred developing ballistic missiles in the US.
He spent the first half of his life developing weapons. But, his true passion was space travel. He wanted to develop jet propulsion systems that could transport manned rockets to the moon and Mars. He got a chance to pursue his dream in 1957. Before that, he published several theoretical and fictional works that theorized the settlement on Mars and the construction of a space station in the Earth’s orbit.
His mission included a fleet of 10 massive spacecraft which transported 70 astronauts and 9 crew vehicles. He made detailed calculations of the aeronautical and engineering parameters but the mission was purely theoretical due to the technological limitations of the 1950s, despite getting attention from some wealthy people interested in space travel including Walt Disney.
The prophetic part of von Braun’s work concerns the autonomous government of Mars. Namely, he proposed that, instead of presidents, rulers of the colony would be appointed the title of “Elon”: “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.”
The name Elon had no significance back in the 1950s and it was likely to have been derived from the Hebrew name Elon which means Oak Tree, a sign of wisdom and great knowledge. Now with Elon Musk’s ambitious plans known to the whole world, one wonders if it was more than just a coincidence. However, there is no connection between Musk and von Braun. No matter what the case, it is an interesting story and we all hope to see the Elon of our time do what was only dreamed of more than half a century ago.