A rocket scientist who worked on Germany's V-2 missile during World War II says mankind is destined to colonize Mars and eventually move throughout the solar system.
"We should be prepared to live in other areas," said Konrad K. Dannenberg, who worked on the V-2's propulsion system and later became an important figure in development of American rocket programs.Dannenberg has been attending the eighth annual Conference on Small Satellites at Utah State University, where he gave the "distinguished lecture" Monday night. The gathering has drawn scores of experts from around the country.
In a Deseret News interview Tuesday, Dannenberg, born in 1912, looked far younger than his years. His blue eyes were clear and steady, his white hair close-cropped. He wore a tie with a scene showing a moon walk.
Dannenberg said the cometary pounding that the planet Jupiter took recently should remind humans that such catastrophes have happened on Earth in the past and could happen again.
"So I think basically we should be prepared to live in other areas. I think that's one of the basic tasks for mankind," he said.
Dannenberg has been involved in nearly the entire history of modern rocketry. Like his famous team leader, Werner von Braun, he began amateur rocket experiments in the late 1920s, then was drafted into the German war effort at the Peenemunde base.
When Germany lost the war, von Braun, Dannenberg and other top scientists at Peenemunde surrendered to the Americans. Taken to this country, they were instrumental in launching America's space program.
Dannenberg became director of the Jupiter intermediate-range ballistic missile project. Later, he was deputy manager of the Saturn missile program at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. The Saturn is the rocket that took man to the moon 25 years ago.
Now retired in Huntsville, Ala., Dannenberg is a consultant to the Alabama Space and Rocket Center.
In the early days of amateur experiments in Europe, rockets were thought to be the answer to communications problems, he said.
With no TV, and radio just starting to develop, rockets were seen as a great way to communicate. For example, in the Austrian Alps, getting from one village to another that could be seen on a nearby mountain slope might take all day, he said.
"If you have a rocket, well, you could get your information across in just a minute or two," he added.
"In those days we thought we would put postcards and letters in the warhead, in the payload area of the rocket, and we would launch it," he said. Wings like those now used on the space shuttle would allow the rocket to glide in to a landing at a receiving station, he said.
But with the coming of war, the young rocket experts were drafted to work on weapons. Dannenberg was to work on propulsion.
"The hope was that the liquid rockets would provide much better accuracy (than existing solid-fuel rockets), so you could use it as a pinpoint vehicle, to hit a pinpoint target. That was basically the intent of what we called the A-4 Peenemunde, which later on became known as the V-2."
The V-2 was the first big liquid-fueled rocket. Its engineering laid the groundwork for much of the work that has been done since.
But the V-2 wasn't the biggest rocket that the German scientists were thinking about. They had another on the drawing boards: the A-10.
The A-10 "would have had an intercontinental range and . . . with some modifications could have gone into an Earth orbit. Von Braun always had hoped that this would be obtained one of these days."
However, the A-10 only existed on paper and was not under construction. Still, he said, von Braun was always thinking about nonmilitary uses of rockets, like space exploration.
"Toward the end of the war, the (German) army really forbade von Braun to work on these things . . . At some time von Braun was put into jail because the army - in particular the SS, who had been put by Hitler in charge of the rocket program - they felt he spent too much time on these future advanced projects."
The army complained that von Braun was not spending enough time on completing the V-2, which had a lot of technical problems, Dannenberg said.
Dannenberg admits he is disappointed that after the first few moon landings, manned lunar exploration was abandoned, at least for now.
"On the other hand, I was really surprised that we landed on the moon as early as we did. I had not expected it would have happened even, say, within this century.
"So even if we would have gone there only in '90, I still would have been favorably impressed."
The Apollo program developed quickly, he said. "If you really concentrate on even a very, very demanding task, if you have again the necessary resources, the necessary support from the politicians, you can do it."
In his opinion, the economic advantages of space exploration will be so great that they will help propel humans throughout the solar system.
"We will go to Mars with manned missions," he said. "I think the landing on Mars is only a very first step to really expand into the entire solar system."
When will we go to Mars? "If you really push me for a prediction, I would say, around 2050, in that neighborhood."