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“Mr President, our Germans are better than their Germans”

My title of this posting is taken from that fine film, “The Right Stuff”, based on the book of the same title by Tom Wolfe. The character who uttered those lines in the movie was Werner von Braun. The reference is to the fact that at the end of the Second World War, a group of German scientists working on the V2 and other rocket systems were captured by the Allies and ended up working on the US space programme, while another lot of Germans ended up working for the Soviet Union.

Via the Andy Ross blog, here’s a review of a new book on von Braun.

Of course, no reference to von Braun would be complete without the following song from Tom Lehrer.

7 comments to “Mr President, our Germans are better than their Germans”

  • manuel II paleologos

    Ja, genau.

    When you see the number of times it took to get V2s working properly, and how long it takes nowadays to get even basic rockets fully functional, I find it astonishing that the Saturn V basically worked first time, every time.

    Don’t miss “In The Shadow Of The Moon” too, now out on video. Some interesting reflections from Bean, Schmitt, Collins and others about just what it felt like riding it. Schmitt makes the interesting point that it vibrated so much there’s no way he’d have been able to flip any switches if required. Cernan has a wonderful description of shooting through the fireball in the staging process. And they all describe the first few moments as the motors gimbal around trying to stay pointing the right way; Collins (the real star of the show) talks about it as feeling like “a novice driver driving a large car down a narrow street”. And those shots taken from the farings as they separate are still jaw-dropping.

  • Kevin B

    God the Space Race. Nostalgia or what.

    As a boy I followed the progress of our germans and their germans as they built bigger and better V-2s, first to strap bombs to, then primitive satellites and finally manned capsules.

    Then there was Kennedy and the promise of the moon, and there were Armstrong and Aldrin, on the moon at last.

    And then the Shuttle. Cheap reusable access to space. But they only built six of them, and they weren’t exactly cheap, and not exactly reusable either. Then first one, then another crashed.

    And now everyone’s back to building bigger and better V-2s

    Oh yes, Scaled Composites sent Space Ship One into space, but I was a teenager when Joe Walker flew the X-15 past the 100 km altitude mark. True, Rutan and his people are using new materials and novel rocket designs to match those feats, but for a space mad kid who was born next to the Royal Aircraft Establishment, whose father worked at the National Gas Turbine Establishment, and who joined the RAF in part because he believed in Per Ardua ad Astra, we’ve made precious little progress in getting our arses off of this goddamn gravity well and out to the stars.

  • ian

    Picky I know, wasn’t the ‘our germans’ line used in Dr Strangelove?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Picky I know, wasn’t the ‘our germans’ line used in Dr Strangelove?

    No, it wasn’t. I saw The Right Stuff the other day; I remember laughing out loud at it.

    Dr Strangelove, of course, does take some of its inspiration from von Braun, of course. Then again, I think Sellers just loved hamming up the idea of a German scientist with an involuntary Nazi salute twitch. I doubt he’d get away with that these days.

  • ian

    I’ve never seen the Right Stuff or read the book, but I still knew the line. Perhaps it is in both.

  • Will T. Power

    During the 60s there was an admiring biopic of von Braun called I Aim For The Stars. Comedian/satirist Mort Sahl had some fun with this in his monologue with a backhanded reference to von Braun’s work on the V-2 rocket. “I aim for the stars — but sometimes I hit London.”

  • rc

    Thanks for making me aware of this book! I read Neufeld’s first book about von Braun, ‘The Rocket and the Reich’, which as terrific! I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.