Saturday, March 24, 2012

JFK and Wernher von Braun. von Braun's 100th birthday was on March 23

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- They were both sons of aristocracy, both dreaming with the moon in their eyes. One had the knowledge to get there, the other the means.
President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Wernher von Braun were vibrant, handsome visionaries. The word "charisma" has been applied thousands of times to describe each.
They were a perfect match for the task at hand.
"There was kind of a mutual admiration between those two," said Bonnie Holmes, von Braun's longtime secretary.
It was Kennedy who established the United States' priority for space exploration in a May 25, 1961 speech to the joint session of Congress, saying it was "time for a great new American enterprise - time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth."
It was von Braun, firing rockets into the sky for two decades already, who had the imagination and leadership for that role, to put an American on the moon.
There was perfect synergy, as even Jacqueline Kennedy recognized. After JFK's assassination, von Braun wrote her a sympathy note, to which she responded with her appreciation for "men like you to help realize his dreams for his country."
"They were good friends," Holmes said of JFK and von Braun. "Both were very important people, but they communicated and liked each other real well."
Kennedy twice visited Marshall Space Flight Center, on Sept. 11, 1962 and again in May 1963.
On the first trip, Kennedy was shown a model of the Saturn V and given a tour of the facility.
On the second, Kennedy witnessed a static firing of a Saturn booster. Impressive as the display was, one of those typical rumbling, dish-rattling explosions to which Huntsville of the 1960s had become accustomed, it was actually slightly scaled back due to Secret Service concerns.
Kennedy was scheduled to fly from Huntsville to Cape Canaveral on his 1962 trip. He was so charmed by von Braun and doted on him so much, it caused some egos in Kennedy's traveling party to bristle a bit. Kennedy suddenly had an idea: von Braun should get on the plane with him and fly to the Cape.
When the President says get on the plane, you get on the plane, luggage or not. Holmes scrambled around, learned a NASA plane was scheduled to fly to the Cape from Huntsville later in the day. She dispatched a driver to von Braun's house, where his wife Maria would have a bag packed, and hustled the luggage onto the second plane.
Kennedy was so charmed that Wernher and Maria von Braun were sent an invitation to a reception at the White House they planned to attend.
The reception was scheduled November 25, 1963, three days after JFK's life was taken.

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