Biography Chronicles von Braun, 'Dreamer of Space' Space historian Michael Neufeld talks about his new biography of scientist Wernher von Braun, chief rocket engineer of the Nazi Third Reich. After the war, von Braun became a key player in the development of the U. S. space program. Neufeld discusses von Braun's life and his influence on space exploration.
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Biography Chronicles von Braun, 'Dreamer of Space'

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Biography Chronicles von Braun, 'Dreamer of Space'

Biography Chronicles von Braun, 'Dreamer of Space'

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Now, turning from the initial stages of the Chinese moon efforts to the early days of our own and what came before. Many of the successes of the early U.S. space programs such as Explorer 1 - the U.S. response to Sputnik - and then the Apollo moon program. These can all be traced to the engineering leadership of Wernher von Braun. Dr. von Braun has also had a success of a darker kind, leading the rocket program in the Nazi Third Reich, using prison camp labor to build the V-2 missiles that showered destruction on Europe.

Joining me to talk about it is Michael Neufeld, he's chair of the Space History Division at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington. He's author of the new book "Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War," and it's out from Knopf. He joins us here in our studios in New York. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

Dr. MICHAEL NEUFELD (Chair, Space History Division, Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum; Author, "Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War"): Great. Thank you for having me.

FLATOW: Why a new book about this very fascinating figure?

Dr. NEUFELD: You know, quite a few biographies have been published about him, but I was very dissatisfied with the biographies that had been published. They were either hero-worshipping or they - a few of them were much more negative and…

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Dr. NEUFELD: …none of them were very well-based in research.

FLATOW: Just as an aside, I think right at the beginning of your book, you tell everybody how to pronounce his name correctly.

Dr. NEUFELD: Mm-hmm.

FLATOW: Why? Is everybody getting it wrong all the time?

Dr. NEUFELD: Well, I - it's a hard…

FLATOW: Say it for us.

Dr. NEUFELD: Yeah, Wernher von Braun because I use the German pronunciation.


Dr. NEUFELD: But he never accepted Braun.

FLATOW: Von Braun.

Dr. NEUFELD: Yeah. He never accepted von Braun. But it's a very hard habit to break - I know from personal experience. Even though I was a German historian and speak German, I've had a hard time breaking the habit myself.

FLATOW: And you also say do not call him a rocket scientist.

Dr. NEUFELD: Yes. I - this is something personal, I guess. I really dislike the term rocket scientist and rocket science, which has become so entrenched in the popular media and popular culture in the last 20 years.

FLATOW: Why not? Why not call him that?

Dr. NEUFELD: Because fundamentally, he was an engineer. And I think the problem of calling him a scientist even though he did have a Ph.D. in Physics is that what he did all of his life was really engineering. And when he talked to his colleagues, he called himself an engineer.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. And he led an engineering team.

Dr. NEUFELD: He led an engineering team…

FLATOW: Those scientists were on the staff?

Dr. NEUFELD: There were some scientists, they're always a row. But the great majority - minority were scientists. They were fundamentally engineers. And of course, I think what I'm trying to get at is fundamentally to the statute in science and engineering, sort of creating new knowledge about the basic makeup of the universe versus building things. And engineering is really about building technology.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. What do - did he start the rocket program in Germany?

Dr. NEUFELD: He was a key figure. I mean, of course, there were many people like anything else; never a one-man show. But there was a theoretician, Hermann Oberth, who published in the German-speaking world, first in 1923. He was key to launching the space fad in the 1920s.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. And so what got his attention?

Dr. NEUFELD: Oberth was sort of like, quite independently of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in Russia…

FLATOW: Right.

Dr. NEUFELD: …and Robert Goddard in the United States sort of independently came to the idea that space travel was feasible. And that this - I mean, this is - we're talking now of the 1890s…

FLATOW: Right.

Dr. NEUFELD: …or the 1910s. I mean, that was a crazy idea.

FLATOW: And how did Von Braun get involved in that and then get the attention of the Third Reich?

Dr. NEUFELD: Well, he started out in a rocket clubs in Berlin and he was involved with the early space flight society. But at that time, he was just a kid.


Dr. NEUFELD: And when the army first took an interest in him in 1932, he was 20-year-old university student.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Dr. NEUFELD: And - but of course, the army had its own interest in rockets, so that started around 1929. They started getting interested in the idea of a rocket as a weapon.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. 1-800-989-82555 is our number, if you like to give us a call. Also in "Second Life," you can look for us wearing SCIENCE FRIDAY T-shirts in science school there, 1-800-989-82555. So did he offer this to the Nazis or did they common look for him?

Dr. NEUFELD: Well, the time he started working for the German army was just before Hitler came to power, and the Nazis really weren't part of it. He was actually - still a university student, and they looked at what this rocket club in Berlin was doing and said, you know, most of this is just sensationalism but this kid, this kid has potential. So it was more that they picked him out.

FLATOW: And he was given - made an officer in the S.S., was he not?

Dr. NEUFELD: Later on, back in 1940, he was - as I'm indicating in the book -it's kind of one of the things he was asked to do or one of the compromises he was asked to make in the process of getting him deeper and deeper into the regime and implicating him in the regime.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. We're talking with Michael Neufeld, author of "Von Braun" subtitled, "Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War." Huge book, very well documented. You're hoping this becomes like the standard reading edition, the record of the…

Dr. NEUFELD: Yeah. I would hope that it would do that. I mean, you know, I - writing a biography, I've come to conclusion that there was always room for another biography if you have a unique point of view…


Dr. NEUFELD: …but I hope that the sort of the extremely thorough research sort of sets a standard for future work.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-82555 is our number. We're going to take a short break, come back and talk lots more with Michael Neufeld, author of "Von Braun," B-R - pronounce it like brown because Braun means brown. I didn't term it. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

We're talking with Michael Neufeld, author of "Von Braun," a new book about the life and controversy, one of the more controversial scientists. You know, he, at the end of the war, with that famous picture - he had a broken arm. And the Allies were closing in on Berlin and there was the race to try to get to the Americans first because of the fear what the Russians would do to Germans they captured.

Dr. NEUFELD: Right. I mean, he wanted to get away from the Russians and he wanted to surrender to the U.S. Army, although I think he had more luck than anything else and actually getting to surrender to the U.S. Army. Since he was more or less in the power of an S.S. general, at that time he was in command of the rocket program.

FLATOW: And he came over to the U.S. and he immediately started work on - the U.S. knew what the project that they wanted to have done, right?

Dr. NEUFELD: Right. Well, I mean, actually at this point, it was somewhat guess work. The Army, U.S. Army now, wanted to have his rocket group to start develop its capability in guided missiles. And so that was, of course, what the real money was for in Nazi Germany and in the United States in the early Cold War. Space really didn't interest did U.S. Army or the German Army…


Dr. NEUFELD: …they wanted guided missiles.

FLATOW: Yeah, but he also had a problem with his - with who his background was, and he had to start convincing people he was a good guy.

Dr. NEUFELD: Right. He had this problem - and of course, being the S.S. officer was his biggest problem. You know, in terms of the behind-the-scenes discussion about actually keeping these guys, not just bringing them over under Project Paperclip. They're kind of brought into the country extra legally. Quite consciously, the U.S. government sort of circumvented the immigration procedure.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Dr. NEUFELD: And then, if we were going to keep them, then we needed to turn them into a regular immigrant and somehow process his paperwork. But the S.S. record was a problem, and interestingly enough, the concentration camp labor thing really wasn't much of an issue.

FLATOW: Because people didn't know about the concentration camps in the early -until the Eichmann trial and heard a whole lot about.

Dr. NEUFELD: Well, it certainly, that was true. That helped at the time. But that's not entirely true of what happened right in '45, '46…


Dr. NEUFELD: …because as soon as the U. S. Army overran those camps, like Buchenwald and in Dachau and - but also the Nordhausen camps, where the V-2 had been…

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Dr. NEUFELD: …where the labor force from V-2 had been. I mean, there was a scandal in the west in April of '45, when these camps were discovered. And one of them was Nordhausen. But rapidly, it was forgotten.

FLATOW: So there was slave labor under his command?

Dr. NEUFELD: It wasn't really under his command. And that's where, of course, the judgment about him is open for a lot of argument. He was involved as a key member of the program. He was in the underground plant, which was separate from the rocket center in Peenemunde. He saw the prisoner labor. There was also - at an earlier time - concentration camp labor at Peenemunde. So had - I guess it's more a question of his knowledge, direct knowledge, of the conditions and his kind of direct encounter with prisoners. That's the issue here, because it really wasn't his order or his idea, exactly.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. And the - I remember him being on the Walt Disney program as a child.

Dr. NEUFELD: Mm-hmm.

FLATOW: I watched it. And he was out front showing us, changing his image, making us aware of what were the possibilities of going to the moon and beyond.

Dr. NEUFELD: It's a sort of an astounding part of his career. He came to this country in 1945. He wasn't well-known. He was in rocket program for the Army. And then suddenly, in the '50s, he became a public name. He made himself…


Dr. NEUFELD: …into a public name.

FLATOW: But once he became public, then we have the criticism that was leveled on him about his Nazi past, and there were actually very popular things. Let me just play a little bit of the Tom Lehrer song about him.

(Soundbite of song "Werner von Braun")

Mr. TOM LEHRER (Political Musician): (Singing) Don't say that he's hypocritical, say rather that he's apolitical. Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department, says Wernher von Braun.

FLATOW: And there was also the - Mort Sahl used to talk about his autobiography called "I Aimed for the Stars." And he used to say it should be subtitled "But I Hit London," "I Mostly Hit London" or something like that.

Dr. NEUFELD: Uh-hmm. Yeah. That was his joke, actually, about the movie "I Aimed at the Stars."

FLATOW: Right. Yeah.

Dr. NEUFELD: Sometimes I hit London.


Dr. NEUFELD: So he was a subject of more satire and criticism in the '60s. In the '50s, I think, in a more hard-line Cold War atmosphere, people didn't express very much any doubts about his past.

FLATOW: But he was a great showman, right? I mean…

Dr. NEUFELD: Yes, absolutely. And of course, that was one of the things that -he managed to turn himself into this - the best-known speaker for space in the 1950s - first in Collier's magazine and on the Disney program.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number. Let's see if we can get some calls here. Let's go to Miel(ph) in San Francisco.

Hi, Miel.

MIEL (Caller): Hello. Yeah. Say, I just wondered about the bowering and espionage involved in all of this. For example, to what extent was the German scientific - whether you call them scientists or engineers - was their contingent vital to the success of our Apollo program? Could we have done it at all or how long would it have taken? And we haven't been all that stellar, if I may say that, since then with our, you know, manned space program. Also, the Russians - to what extent did they benefit from German side? And then finally, going back to your previous segment, I've heard a lot about the Loral Corporation in giving some vital information to the Chinese on the space. Could you address those points, please?

FLATOW: You want to pick up any of those?

Dr. NEUFELD: You know, certainly, the Russians benefitted from German rocket expertise. They took a group to the Soviet Union - somewhat against their will, basically. But they shipped off a bunch of Germans that they had working in the eastern zone of Germany. So part of the rocket program owes it to German technology as well, just like ours.

How much was von Braun and company responsible for landing on the moon? Certainly, that was a significant contribution that he and his group made, because they were the core of martial space flight center which built or at least designed the Saturn rocket - vehicle Saturn V.

So he was really - he was - I mean, of course, we might have done it without him and we probably could have. The question is whether we would have done it as quickly as we did in the 1960s.

FLATOW: Why was he not able to lobby for the last three missions to the Moon? There were supposed to be 20 Apollo missions.

Dr. NEUFELD: Mm-hmm.

FLATOW: And the last three were cancelled. What was his reaction to that? He must have been just heartbroken.

Dr. NEUFELD: Well, I think he was very disappointed, in general, about the sort of collapse of public support. Right after Apollo 11 or 12, people began to lose interest very rapidly. He went to Washington in 1970 to be the number four at NASA. He was supposed to plan the future of the space program - at least the civilian space program. And then the whole - then it would turn out to be not much of a future to plan. So he was very disillusioned. And he couldn't really do anything to stop this kind of cutting short of Apollo.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number. Were scientists basically given a free pass there on those years to, you know, the kind of work they wanted to do?

Dr. NEUFELD: In terms of the Germans?


Dr. NEUFELD: I mean, certainly, they were - there was a problem always to explain to the American people why we had a bunch of people who came from Nazi Germany and what they were doing here. But very rapidly, as the Cold War heated up in the last '40s that those questions kind of went away because people much more, you know, American people and American government is much more concerned over what the Soviets were doing and not with the Germans anymore.

FLATOW: What new stuff did you discover?

Dr. NEUFELD: Well, a lot of interesting things. One of the most interesting things that I discovered about him - even though I've been working on him for 10 or 15 years before I got deeply into the book - was that he was obsessed about landing on the moon himself. I mean, when he pictured his dream in the 1920, it was not just working on rockets and being part of a space effort eventually. He wanted to go in the space. He wanted to land on the moon.

FLATOW: He wanted to be an astronaut.

Dr. NEUFELD: Yeah. He wanted…

FLATOW: Did he try to go through training at all?

Dr. NEUFELD: Well, of course, by the time he - by the time it became feasible - that is only at the end of the 1950s, he probably understood, although I never found a particular document saying that. But he obviously understood at some point that he was too old.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Dr. NEUFELD: That it wasn't - but of course, we have to remember, he started dreaming about this in the 1920s as a teenager. And he had a much more romantic and hopeful and optimistic view of when that might happen.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Did he see us going from the moon to Mars and other places?

Dr. NEUFELD: Yeah. He was very interested in Mars. I mean, I think he had a moon obsession. He was most interested in going to the moon more than anything else. But he wrote a lot about Mars, you know? He wrote a novel in the late '40s that didn't work out. It was kind of a lousy novel. But it was based on a feasibility study of landing on Mars. That was what - the appendix was later published as "Mars Project."

FLATOW: So he must have thrived on the competition in this…

Dr. NEUFELD: Yeah. I mean, he was very happy once the space race started. Because although he wasn't very happy that we were second to the Soviets, you know, he could see, you know, now his dreams are being realized. He was no longer just waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen.

FLATOW: What other surprising stuff that you discovered?

Dr. NEUFELD: Well, you know, I mean I guess I needed to understand his relations with his family and his background better. It was really interesting to see just to what extent his aristocratic Prussian background had a lot to do with the values that he carried into why he kind of went into this Third Reich kind of - sleepwalked into this, what I call Faustian bargain with the Third Reich.

His values, conservative values, the Prussian army tradition in his family - all these things made it all too easy to just sort of go along with the military development of rocketry.

FLATOW: Michael(ph) in Cincinnati. Hi. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hi. I love your program. I just wanted to ask your guest if he knows of other German scientists who were involved in doing some very strange things like - did you ever hear of a guy by the name of Hubertus Strughold, who worked for the Institute for Aviation Medicine in Germany? And he was involved with an experiment with Sigmund Rascher in hyperthermia, where he reduced people's temperature to 79 degrees and tried to revive them.

You know, the reason I'm asking is that they try to put up a mural up for him in the Ohio State University in 1993 to celebrate his work in medicine, when Jewish and the Holocaust survivor groups and the Anti-Defamation League - when they found out about it, they objected and they had it stopped.

And do you know of other scientists - like we have other scientists? For example, one in Cincinnati, Eugene L. Saenger who's a top radiologist who worked for the University of Cincinnati - he recently died, and there was an obituary for him in the New York Times, described Saenger's experiments with overdosing patients with radiation.

FLATOW: All right. Let me get a reaction.

Dr. NEUFELD: Yeah. Well, certainly I've heard of Strughold - of course, as far as the controversy over the Paperclip German scientists and engineers, you know, Strughold is up there along with von Braun. You know, the issue over von Braun and, of course, Arthur Rudolph - his close associate that was later forced to leave the country - was the concentration camp laborers. Strughold, it was human experiment. You know, I don't want to speak in defense of Strughold, but I think his involvement was more remote. But the thing was he was associated with or knew about these human experiments at Dachau.

FLATOW: Was von Braun ever able to escape this criticism his whole life about his Nazi past? He could never really escape it, could he?

Dr. NEUFELD: He could never really escape it, but he had a long period there in the - from the late '40s into the '60s, where the press was very uncritical for the most part. Where - well, people just didn't know very much about…

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

And the press didn't know very much about (unintelligible) or anything else. The S.S. membership was a complete secret. It was classified, so he never talked about it. Nobody knew about it.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number. We're talking about Wernher von Braun with the author Michael Neufeld, author of new book called "Von Braun" on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

The - if he were alive today, will he welcome what's going on in space? Or would he be in favor of international cooperation, or would he say let's do it on our own?

Dr. NEUFELD: You know, I think he'd probably, later in his life, moved towards a much more international perspective on going into space, mostly, because he sort of got out of the military business once he was transferred to NASA with his group in 1960. So I think he'd be happy that we are going back to the moon obviously. I think he would have been astounded that it's 50 years, perhaps, between landing on the moon the first time and the second time for the United States.

FLATOW: That's the old Arthur C. Clarke line, you know? He said the most amazing thing about landing on the moon is that we didn't go back.

Dr. NEUFELD: Right. I mean, it just - I mean this was - I mean the whole space where it didn't happen the way these guys imagined it. They imagined kind of like a steady march forward. And instead, we, you know, didn't spend on it and then the space race happened after Sputnik, and there was a massive spending when we got to the moon and we stopped doing it.

FLATOW: Were they were the politics? I mean, this is all about politics and economics, you know?


FLATOW: They were very much, I'm sure, involved in it, those kinds of decision.

Dr. NEUFELD: Yeah. They learned, of course, that they really were subject to the - somewhat to the whims of the public or the public opinion and - but I think it was a disillusioning experience for him that the public support just fell off so drastically after Apollo 11.

FLATOW: Yeah. And so toward the end of his life, what was he like? Was he bitter, was he happy, was he disappointed?

Dr. NEUFELD: You know, he was fundamentally an optimist, so he tend to bounce back and be happy. But he was a little disappointed in the mid '70s when - he got out of NASA in 1972, retired you said because - but he really quit because he couldn't stand being in this kind of declining period of the program…


Dr. NEUFELD: …and went to a corporation, Fairchild. And that was a good job, but then he got cancer twice and died in 1977.

FLATOW: What did he think about the space shuttle idea?

Dr. NEUFELD: He was very enthusiastic about the space shuttle, but he sort of characteristically also was hoping that it was his mechanism for getting into space. He still held on to his dream that he would travel into space himself.

FLATOW: And he designed that whole Apollo idea of the three stages in going -in staying in orbit around the Earth and going out to the moon, which is we're not going back to.

Dr. NEUFELD: Mm-hmm.

FLATOW: You know, the shuttle is going to be past, say, in a few years. And when it go - we're going back to the future.

Dr. NEUFELD: Right.

FLATOW: His design is being resurrected.

Dr. NEUFELD: Well, to some extent, I would say, you know - with Apollo, it is best to keep in mind as a huge project with many, many important people, many, many native-born Americans - in fact, almost all of them. He was key to the rocket part. The spacecraft part, he wasn't and the lunar orbit rendezvous method, he wasn't. But he sort of belatedly decided in 1962, this lunar orbit rendezvous thing was the right way to go, and his support was important.

FLATOW: Michelle in Egg Harbor, New Jersey. Hi.

MICHELLE (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to make a comment. My grandfather, his name is Jack Lewis(ph). He was a Holocaust survivor and he was in Dachau and Buchenwald and Auschwitz. And he actually saw Wernher von Braun in the concentration camp and witnessed him personally committing atrocities. He was always frustrated by the fact that his history with the Nazis had been played out as if he had been sort of a bystander and not directly involved.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

MICHELLE: He actually had the opportunity to tell Wernher von Braun many years ago, when he visited a school in New Jersey back in the 1970s that he knew what he had done and had seen him do it. When I heard you guys talking, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity for my grandfather to…


MICHELLE: …set the record straight…

FLATOW: Michael…

MICHELE: …on Von Braun.

Dr. NEUFELD: Ah, you know, I would have to argue with that memory to some extent, not because I wanted to defend von Braun.

MICHELLE: He was there…

Dr. NEUFELD: Well…

MICHELLE: He saw with his own eyes. He was in a concentration camp, tattooed numbers. My grandfather…

Dr. NEUFELD: I don't argue with that part, obviously. I'm just saying von Braun is the case - there are a number of cases of mistaken identity. But he was not in power of the prisoners. He was basically…

MICHELLE: He was not in power of the prisoners…

Dr. NEUFELD: Well, I mean…

MICHELLE: …but he also was not one that was free of having hurt or killed the prisoners.

Dr. NEUFELD: Well, I guess I just have to respectfully disagree with that, not because again I defend him or his behavior in the Third Reich, but just because that was not in his control. He was not in S.S. uniform when he did those things. He was not in control over the prisoners. He personally saw…

FLATOW: He saw it happening.

Dr. NEUFELD: He saw how people were treated…

MICHELLE: My grandfather saw it happened.

FLATOW: Hang on, Michelle.

MICHELLE: His own eyes - my grandfather, a Holocaust survivor who has spoken about his experiences many, many times to many, many people. His stories are archived at the National Archives in Washington, D.C…

FLATOW: All right, we're…

MICHELLE: He's very well-respected man with very distinct memories. I can guarantee that. There are no differences in the stories that he tell.

FLATOW: All right. Thank you for calling, Michelle. We have to take a short break and come back and talk lots more with Michael Neufeld about Wernher von Braun. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

Talking with Michael Neufeld, author of "Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War." Our number is 1-800-989-8255. Just to finish up our closure on that last phone call, certainly, there must have been cases where Von Braun walked through a prison camp and saw beatings of people and had to know what was going on. At least, if he did not, involved himself personally with it.

Dr. NEUFELD: Yeah, there's evidence certainly that he walked through the tunnels and he saw that. I mean, he didn't ever go inside the camp part whence the camps were outside the tunnels. But he certainly walked through. He saw the conditions. He saw the horrible suffering of the prisoners even - whether he saw beating, there's no way to verify that.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Should I get a quick phone call in? Let's go to Paul in Trenton, New Jersey. Hi, Paul.

PAUL (Caller): Hello, how are you doing?

FLATOW: Hi, there.

PAUL: Mr. Neufeld, I have a quick question for you.

Dr. NEUFELD: Mm-hmm.

PAUL: My father actually worked with Wernher von Braun on the Nike missile project. And he forward von Braun over to NASA, and my mother didn't really know much about it - my father's gone now - and he was not allowed to speak very much about the projects he worked on. I was wondering if there are any public records that I could look up so I could learn a little bit more about what my father did and, you know, get a better sense of what he was up against and just kind of - what he was doing at that time?

Dr. NEUFELD: Yeah. Nike was actually done by another part of the Army that von Braun was involved in, but you might try the National Archives in College Park in the new building of the National Archives outside Washington and College Park, Maryland. You look at - .gov, I mean. And if you look at NARA's site, you can get locations and times to go to use the records and see what you can find.

PAUL: All right.

FLATOW: Thanks for calling.

PAUL: Thank you very much.

FLATOW: Are there still records about him to go through?

Dr. NEUFELD: You know, I think I'd kind of exhausted the personal records, although they were huge and there's always more things you could do with them.

FLATOW: Any secret military records that are still…

Dr. NEUFELD: There are military records I could get that were declassified. At least for the '40s and the '50s, it's still possible to get stuff. So it's good that he moved out of the military business because it's getting harder and harder to get into anything that's classified and get it declassified.

FLATOW: Anything having to do with World War II, I've - in researching things myself and here and in Great Britain and what was going on, some of them are still classified, you know?

Dr. NEUFELD: It's astounding, yeah…

FLATOW: Estimating how much. I was doing some research on just the invention of the computer. You know, the British were working on it on World War II and decoding. That stuff is - so much of that is still classified and the common knowledge of what's going on, they still won't release the records of it. So…

Dr. NEUFELD: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Certainly anything related to intelligence and communications intelligence. It's very hard to get there.

FLATOW: So where do you go from here? You have another follow-up or…

Dr. NEUFELD: I - you know, I think after 20 years of working on von Braun and Peenemunde because I published an earlier book called "The Rocket and the Reich," I'm going to do something different. I've been thinking about perhaps the continental defense of North America during the Cold War and how this huge system was created, early warning, radar…

FLATOW: The DEW Line and…

Dr. NEUFELD: DEW Line everything since, you know, originally from Canada's…

FLATOW: (Unintelligible), remember those…

Dr. NEUFELD: …interesting.

FLATOW: We don't have those on the - do we have (unintelligible) on the radio anymore? I don't think so.

Dr. NEUFELD: I don't think so anymore, but certainly the warning systems still exist in the more sophisticated form. The Russians still have thousands of nuclear warheads, even if they aren't pinpointed at us exactly at this moment.

FLATOW: Well, I want you to - I want to wish you good luck on your travels on your book. And it is the - this is the required reading, this book.

Dr. NEUFELD: Well, of course, that will be my opinion. Thank you.

FLATOW: It's a terrific - it's a terrific book "Von Braun" - say it right, "Von Braun," Michael Neufeld, "Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War." He is also a chair of the Space History Division at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington. Thanks for taking time to be with us.

Dr. NEUFELD: Thank you for having me.

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