My space journey: from wagons to rockets

By admin
13 June 2016

From sketches in a notebook to footprints on the moon, it all had to start somewhere. YOU intern Daniel De Carvalho blogs about his 'travels through space' at Gateway to Space: the Exhibition in Joburg.

"For over one century, great men and woman have contributed to the concept of space travel. Although a long and tricky road, it was one well travelled. From sketches in a notebook to footprints on the moon, it all had to start somewhere.

In the beginning there was man and the thirst for knowledge. To be a little more specific, a German aerospace engineer Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun and his pursuits in space travel.

PHOTO: OJ Koloti PHOTO: OJ Koloti

Entering the year 1924, in the streets of Berlin; there is a hustle and bustle between street vendors, pedestrians on the grey cobblestone pavement and a 12-year-old Wernher zooming down Tiergarten Street in a wooden wagon.

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Wernher strapped six large fireworks to his small wooden wagon and shot down the streets of Berlin, startling the bystanders and knocking over fruit carts. Although the wagon was destroyed, this was only the beginning of a great career in rocket science.

PHOTO: OJ Koloti PHOTO: OJ Koloti

Over the following years, Wernher kept a notebook with sketches and calculations of fuel, supplies and materials needed for space travel. In the notebook, references to  Russian and Soviet rocket scientist, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s work and theories of rocket science and space travel can be found.

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A replica of both the wagon and the notebook can be found at Gateway to Space: The Exhibition in Sandton.

PHOTO: OJ Koloti PHOTO: OJ Koloti

Wernher spent his early life dreaming of space travel and later became the man who helped make it possible, but his creations certainly didn't have noble beginnings.

In the midst of World War 2, after many years of research, trial and error and even the help of prisoners, the V-2 rocket was born at the hands of Wernher and his team. The V-2 rocket is considered to be the first space rocket and first ballistic missile, created in the Mittelwerk factory by the hands of concentration camp inhabitants. It was used by the Nazis to exterminate at least 9000 people, collectively in London and Northern European cities.

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Once Germany had lost the war in the early 1940s, both the Americans and Soviet Union were on the search for Wernher and his team of engineers. Before nearly being killed for the protection of V-2 secrets, Wernher decided, for the sake of his survival and dreams of space travel, he would have to surrender to the Americans.

After many years working for America, developing space travel technology, Wernher and his team of rocket scientists developed and created the Saturn V rocket.

In its time, the Saturn V was the most powerful launch vehicle built. The 110,6-m tall, the Saturn V, burned for about two minutes and 41 seconds after launch, lifting the rocket to an altitude of 68 km and a speed of 6,164 miles per hour (2,756 m/s) and burning 2 100 000 kg of propellant. That is about 734 Toyota Hilux Double-Cab pick-up trucks worth of propellant in a mere 2 minutes! The Saturn V was later used in the Apollo lunar programme and taking man to the moon.

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Wernher’s contributions to science and space travel have shaped history. Apollo space program director Sam Phillips was quoted saying he does not believe that the US would have reached the moon as quickly as it did without the help of Wernher von Braun.

At the age of 65, Wernher died of pancreatic cancer in Alexandria, Virginia in the US.

Wernher von Braun was only one of the many greats that helped shape history. For more information on space and the journey we as mankind have travelled, check out Gateway to Space: The Exhibition at the Sandton Convention Centre."

Watch this space for more from GTS's intrepid explorer, YOU intern Daniel De Carvalho.

The exhibition runs from 1 June 2016 until 31 July 2016. With an educational exhibition and a family-orientated play area, it's the perfect school holidays outing. Tickets are available at Computicket. For more information go to the Gateway to Space Exhibition website at

Hyperlink to buy tickets

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