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Bio of Operation Paperclip Rocket Scientist Krafft Ehricke, Part Two

Alex Constantine - March 1, 2011

Editor's note: This is part two of a two-part story. Part One. Michael Shinabery is an education specialist and Humanities Scholar with the New Mexico Museum of Space History. E-mail him at michael.shinabery@state.nm.us

This Week in Space History: Ehricke saw past current space projects

By Michael Shinabery, New Mexico Museum of Space History
Alamagordo Daily News | February 20, 2011

iss astrolab nl d n H 300x214 - Bio of Operation Paperclip Rocket Scientist Krafft Ehricke, Part TwoKrafft Ehricke's proposals included the space city Astropolis, a Metaprobe or spacecraft fleet, the lunar settlement Selenopolis, and nuclear propulsion to travel the solar system and beyond. In his Dynarium, tourists on space vacation cruises would swim as astronauts float today.

Then, at the American Astronautical Society Meeting in San Diego, Feb. 21-23, 1966, Ehricke put forth in the paper Utilization of Space Environment for Therapeutic Purposes that orbiting hospitals might cure diseases and alleviate pain.

"He actually appeared with Walter Cronkite on television explaining that people with heart conditions, people with arthritic conditions, people who were recovering from severe burns, all of them would benefit by being in a microgravity environment," author Marsha Freeman said in a Jan. 6, 2011, interview on KRSY AM 1230 radio.

Eluding Russian capture after World War II, Ehricke, a German engineer, immigrated to the United States under Operation Paperclip. The Army contracted with him to work on missile development at White Sands Proving Ground.

In 1950, Freeman wrote in Krafft Ehricke's Extraterrestrial Imperative (Apogee/2008), "the majority of the German team" - led by V-2 developer Wernher von Braun - "was transferred to Huntsville, Ala., to the Army's Ballistic Missile Agency." There they designed and tested "medium-range ballistic missiles" that NATO would deploy in western Europe. Ehricke was chief of the Gas Dynamics Section, which researched propulsion. But "when his Army contract expired in 1952," Ehricke chose private industry. He was, said Von Braun: Dreamer of Space/Engineer of War (Knopf/2008), "frustrated at (Huntsville's) apparent lack of a space future."

dornberger 2 - Bio of Operation Paperclip Rocket Scientist Krafft Ehricke, Part TwoWalter Dornberger

Bell Aircraft hired Ehricke; the company also employed Walter Dornberger, the former commander of Peenemunde, where Ehricke worked on the V-2.

"While at Bell Aircraft, he began thinking about how to most efficiently carry men and machines into orbit," Freeman wrote. "He developed the ground-breaking idea of having two types of rocket vehicles for manned space missions - one for the crew and a separate one for cargo." His design for "a reusable winged orbiting craft later led to the design of the Air Force's (Dyna-Soar or Dynamic Soaring) concept"; which, said the website islandfarm.fsnet.co.uk, "was the basis of the American space shuttle program."

In 1951, the Air Force contracted with Convair to build Atlas, "the first American ICBM," said Ted Spitzmiller in Astronautics: Book 1 Dawn of the Space Age (Apogee/2006). Three years later, Ehricke joined Convair, which had planned to hire him earlier "but his close Nazi association during the war held up the issuance of a U.S. security clearance."

At Convair, Spitzmiller said, Ehricke "finally felt he had found a creative home." He "was able to conduct in-house studies for orbiting satellites by 1956, but could not induce the government to fund his proposals until Sputnik." After the Soviet Union launched the world's first artificial satellite, Freeman said that Convair, by then General Dynamics' Convair Astronautics Division, had Ehricke "proceed with a design for an Atlas upper stage," the Centaur. The company then sent him to Washington with a proposal entitled A Satellite and Space Development Program, along with a $15 million "funding request" to build Centaur, "the world's first liquid hydrogen rocket stage."

Ehricke had a "passionate belief" in liquid hydrogen as a second-stage propellant "to produce a higher thrust than any known rocket fuel," Freeman said. That would "allow increases in payload É between 35-40 (percent) per pound of lift-off weight. Ehricke insisted that mastering the difficult, and dangerous, use of liquid hydrogen was necessary in order to efficiently travel beyond Earth orbit."

"The Atlas (booster) is like a big truck," Ehricke said. "You can use it to carry men, equipment, most anything you want, into space."

The 1966 lunar Surveyor "launched on an Atlas-Centaur," Freeman said. Surveyor "landed successfully on the moon's Ocean of Storms, paving the way for the manned Apollo missions. Six more Surveyor missions followed." The Mariner 7 Mars mission was another spacecraft "with a Centaur upper stage."

Ehricke "was well aware that the first step to exploring space was to be able to get there," Freeman said. "Convair's Atlas rocket would perform well enough to deliver a nuclear weapon halfway around the world, but to send machines to the planets, and open the universe to men, more advanced and powerful propulsion systems would be required."

"I cannot imagine," said Ehricke, "a more foreboding vision than the fate of a mankind possessed with cosmic powers and condemned to one small planet."

After NASA landed men on the moon, the federal government began reducing the aerospace budget. Conversely, Ehricke argued for increased research and development "investment," in the April 1982 Astronautics & Aeronautics. He also decried what he described as the "limits-to-growth syndrome, technophobia and cultural pessimism (that) have undercut the space program." The result, he said, was that "we have lost time, and the public has lost confidence in our work."

"When the cultural situation changed by the end of the 1960s, he took on a very public fight," Freeman said on KRSY. The new attitude was that "man is a parasite on the Earth, all we do is produce waste and pollution, and the dream was disappearing and man was becoming a pestilence instead of a creative individual who could look out and develop the universe."

Ehricke was a proponent of the "philosophical" view of space, said Freeman on KRSY, which means adopting a far-sighted view beyond any current project. "He saw space exploration as really, fundamentally, a new stage in human existence. What he meant by the extraterrestrial imperative was that this is not just simply nice or exciting or interesting for people to do, but something that would really define the existence of humanity, that it would be a new level of human society. He said we have been living in a two-dimensional civilization. We have the Earth and we walk around it or we fly around it. But going into space brings you into a three-dimensional civilization."

Ehricke died in December 1984 of leukemia.


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