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Wernher von Braun

Emil Hellebrand

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The renowned rocket scientist inscribes and signs The Mars Project to a member of his team

Dr. Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun, 1912–1977.  German, later American, aerospace engineer.  Book, The Mars Project, inscribed and signed, Wernher von Braun / October 1952.  In German.  Together with handwritten notes and calculations by Emil A. H. Hellebrand, 1914–1981.

This German first edition copy of von Braun’s book The Mars Project: Study of an Interplanetary Expedition, published in 1952, has never been offered on the autograph market before.  With a long, eight-line inscription, the renowned German-cum-American rocket scientist inscribes and signs a copy of the book to his colleague Emil Hellebrand, from whose estate we acquired this book.  In full:  “To ‘Emilio’ Hellebrand in recognition of your great contribution to the advancement of missile issues and to the constant reminder that the greatest tasks are still ahead of us.”

The greatest tasks were indeed still ahead—but for the moon, not Mars.  By December 1968, von Braun’s most famous rocket, NASA’s historic Saturn V launch vehicle, propelled men to the moon.  Von Braun, a specialist in the development of large liquid fuel rockets and their guidance systems, is renowned as the physicist whose engineering team developed the Saturn V and made President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing men on the moon a reality.  The second manned flight of the Apollo program, Apollo 8, powered by the Saturn V, orbited the moon on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968, and the following July Apollo 11 became the first manned flight to land on the moon.  Hellebrand, himself an expert in rocket design and jet propulsion, was a member of von Braun’s design team. 

Throughout his life, von Braun advocated space travel and a manned flight to Mars.  This paperback book, The Mars Project, which von Braun wrote in 1948, represents his initial plans.  As this book shows, the book was first published in Germany in 1952 as a special of the German magazine Weltraumfahrt, or Space Flight.  The 81-page book contains technical specifications for a manned expedition to Mars that would involve a fleet of 10 spacecraft, three cargo ships and seven passenger ships carrying a total of 70 crew members, to be assembled in Earth orbit from components ferried into space by reusable space shuttles.  Von Braun envisioned that the crew would spend 443 days on the Martian surface before returning to Earth.

Germany’s leading rocketry engineer before and during World War II, von Braun led the team that designed and developed the German V-2, the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile and the first man-made object to travel into space.  Nazi Germany used the V-2, armed with warheads, against Allied cities in retaliation for Allied bombings of German cities.  Beginning in September 1944, the Germans launched some 3,000 V-2s against London and Antwerp and Liège, Belgium, killing an estimated 9,000 people, both military and civilian.

As the end of World War II approached, with the Soviets about 100 miles from Peenemünde, the Baltic island site of the rocketry facility, von Braun and his team moved inland in a calculated effort to surrender to the Americans rather than to the Soviets.  Eventually they made their way to Austria, where von Braun’s younger brother, also named Magnus after their father, surrendered the group to an American infantry soldier on May 2, 1945.  Wernher von Braun told the press that his team wanted to entrust their rocket science “to people who are guided by the Bible.” 

Von Braun was at the head of the Black List, the list of German scientists and engineers whom the United States had targeted for immediate interrogation.  On June 20, 1945, von Braun and about 100 key V-2 personnel, including Hellebrand, were transferred to the United States for employment as part of a secret program known as Operation Paperclip, a program of the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency.  They spent time at Fort Bliss, Texas, before being transferred to Huntsville, Alabama, in 1950, at the start of the Korean War. 

Von Braun led the U.S. Army’s rocket development team at nearby Redstone Arsenal.  The team’s work led to development of the Redstone rocket, which was used for the United States’ first live ballistic nuclear missile tests and which later launched American astronauts Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom into America’s first space flights in 1961.  Transferred to NASA in 1960, von Braun directed the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville for more than 9½ years.

Accompanying this book are eight pages of unsigned handwritten calculations in Hellebrandʼs hand.  Four are on three 8” x 10½” sheets, one front and back and the others on the front, and four are on the front sides of 3” x 5” notepaper.  Examples are shown in the scans below.  The pages are filled with pencil calculations annotated in red pencil. 

The book, a paperback, measures 5⅞” x 8½”, with a cardstock cover that is itself covered in paper on which the printing appears.  The front cover has a few tatters, with paper separation and some loss at the top and bottom of the spine and the lower right corner.  A diagonal tear across the bottom of the paper on the front cover has been repaired with tape.  The book is in very good condition.  Hellebrand’s accompanying notes are generally in fine condition.  The large pages have one horizontal fold through the center and are toned at the edges, evidently from where the edges of the paper stuck outside a book in which the papers were stored.  There is some minor edge chipping and paper loss.  The small notes have a small bit of toning, not particularly perceptible, and scattered bends and a paper clip impression.  Overall they are fine.



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The unsigned handwritten mathematical calculations by Emil Hellebrand

(images four and five) are representative of the entire group of eight pages, four large and four small




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