Today is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. On May 7, 1945 the German military surrendered to the Americans. The next day the Germans surrendered to the Soviets.
But, very shortly thereafter began a covert struggle by the erstwhile allies to evacuate as many German missile experts as possible to their respective countries. Both sides were trying to deny the other access to the knowledge gained by the twisted Nazi scientists during the course of World War II. The United States in particular hoped to use German rocket expertise to develop weapons that might be effective against the Japanese in the Pacific theater. Thus today we mark the beginning of the first phase of what would later be called the Space Race. A race that the United States would ultimately win – on the Moon.
The predecessor of the CIA would eventually evacuate over 1,500 German scientists and engineers to work on missile programs in the United States. Many were sent to Fort Bliss, Texas and White Sands Proving Grounds to lay the groundwork for future rockets and spacecraft. Most famous among them was the architect of the Saturn V (the rocket the astronauts would ride to the Moon): Wernher von Braun.
Seventy years ago the West and the Soviet Union celebrated their victory over fascist Germany. Yet behind the scenes the groundwork was being laid for a future struggle – a struggle with echoes into the present. Every rocket that takes off from Cape Canaveral or Baikonur Cosmodrome can trace at least a little bit of its heritage to the work done by those German engineers so many decades ago.