Wernher von Braun was lead constructor/technologist for the Apollo missions, and provided his knowledge about rocket science, which he used/learned during WW2 when constructing the V2 (along with some other german rocket-scientist which emigrated also to the United States and worked on projects there after WW2). So, this is maybe a hypothetical question, but would the Americans have been able to reach the moon without him or the other German scientists? (And if so, would it have been at 1969 or years later?)

How important was his role, and how good was the american knowledge about advanced rocket science without including the knowledge they gained from the germans after winning WW2? I have never heard about advanced american rocket-technology before von Braun emigrated there, did they even engage with this topic before 1945?

Wikipedia only states that he had the leadership in several projects including the Apollo Mission and the Saturn V rocket.

Edit: i changed question. They could have reached the moon anyway, but more interesting is, if they had a chance to beat russia without the third reich technology. I guess america would have done the same as russia did when they lost the race. Stop the program because it was to expensive and they already had lost.

Also removed the word Nazi, because this lead to discussions which are not on topic of the question.

  • @ kl78, being a member of the NSDAP doesn't mean that much - a lot of people were forced to join/joined because of reasons that had nothing to do with National Socialism, Hitler, or w/e. Do you think von Braun could have been the leader of the rocket program, along with many others, without being a member of the NSDAP? I highly doubt it, and in any case, there probably are a lot of people who joined the party only to further their ambitions, because under such a regime, being a member of the party was certainly beneficial. Aug 10, 2015 at 16:16
  • 1
    Questions calling for speculation is generally considered off topic on H.SE,
    – Semaphore
    Aug 10, 2015 at 16:26
  • Please only comments/discussion about the question, not about von Brauns intention to work for the nazis. Removed my before comments, because they lead to off topic discussions
    – kl78
    Aug 10, 2015 at 16:44
  • von Braun's contribution was important. "Russia" and "America", and even "American" are spelled in English with a capital letter in front.
    – Alex
    Aug 10, 2015 at 23:11
  • NASA had a plan to build a truly massive rocket (the Saturn V...bigger than anything even the US Military wanted at the height of the Cold War) WvB and his team were the only people with experience in even planning for a Rocket this big (V-3) which was ruthlessly attempted to effect in order to save the 3rd Reich. This albeit brutal experience did save the Saturn V program and indeed most credit WvB and his Team for the program's success. Nov 18, 2016 at 21:09

3 Answers 3


Note: My answer is mostly speculation.

General logic dictates that, sooner or later, they would have succeeded in going to the Moon. With the amount of money and energy being invested, as well as the amount of prestige involved, it was only a matter of time.

But it also dictates that if they had to use a famous former Nazi scientist as head of their rocket program, they didn't have anybody better. Which implies that it probably would have taken them a tad longer to construct engines reliable and powerfull enough to propel Apollo 11.

  • Hm, maybe i could have formulated my question better, but i think, if the russians won the race for the moon, the americans would have never gone there. So, the question would be better as: Could the americans beat the russians at the race to moon without von braun? maybe i will change the question, not sure
    – kl78
    Aug 10, 2015 at 16:29

I think people set far too much store by the specific personalities in major industrial programs. This question basically rehashes the old Soviet canard that

"the US got to the moon only because of the Nazi help, and the SU did not only because of the Korolev's untimely death".

US underestimated the importance of the space race and the Soviet commitment to it. This is why SU beat the US to Sputnik and Gagarin. Nevertheless, by the early 60-ies, the US was pouring resources into its space program and the SU just could not compete (this is somewhat similar to the Star Wars episode in the 1980-ies).

Note that it takes time to build up the momentum in such a program, similar to, e.g., battleship/carries building in WW2.

  • I don't think it was too widespread for the Soviet propaganda to claim that the US went to the moon because of Nazi help. This is because they would not like much to empathize the might of Nazi science.
    – Anixx
    Aug 11, 2015 at 9:46
  • Not all Soviet propaganda was as blunt as the "Pravda"'s front page. SU encouraged rumors like the one I mentioned because "old enemy" (nazis) was far less important than the "new enemy" (US). Cf. the current Russian hysteria about the nuclear bombing of Japan.
    – sds
    Aug 13, 2015 at 1:17

The tiniest snippet I can add to this is meeting a German man who claimed to have been a contemporary of Werner von Braun, which impressed me, and shocked him, because I knew who von Braun was. He said that von Braun believed in him, and believed that he could get the job done that he was given to do. This was maybe two decades ago, and what was more interesting to me was that he asked me if I thought there was a circuit that could act as a solid state compass like for an airplane, and the words "Hall effect" jumped into my brain. He also made some comments about applying for government contracts, and how that the inquiries into exactly what materials he was using became so intrusive that he threw his hands up and walked away. I suppose he could afford to at that point. I met him in Topanga Canyon on Robinson Road. What a treat. Here I'll editoriaize because there isn't much data to add, glasses yes,...: When you look at the recent youtubes of the things like the tank interiors of the Saturn V... during launch, and how they used hinged louvers to prevent vortices/etc, there is a mindset of working with the available means and getting the job done, indeed.

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