Submitted by Dick Martin
The Soviet Union was the first to launch a rocket that delivered a 184 pound cylinder that orbited the earth. The scaremongers thought the next object launched by the Soviet Union would be a thermonuclear device? The president at the time, Dwight Eisenhower, stayed calm knowing that the US had a huge advantage in economic might, stronger allies, better Air Force, a global Navy, and superior missiles on the drawing board waiting for development. The problem was who would develop the missiles, the Army or the Air Force or civilian?
The Army seemed to be the logical choice. They had the Redstone rocket that worked the best. So what was Eisenhower’s problem? A graduate of West Point, one would think he would want the Army’s Redstone version, especially since it was the farthest along in development. However, to launch a civilian space program, Eisenhower chose the civilian Vanguard version that had some well publicized spectacular failures on the launch pad. There was one other problem.
Eisenhower spent 1941 to 1945 fighting the Germans. The chief designer of the Army’s space program was Werner von Braun and he along with his key engineers were all ex-SS men that, before surrendering to the Allies, had developed the V-2 rocket that had killed thousands in Great Britain in 1944 and 1945. The Army’s Redstone rocket proved more reliable because it shared much of its technology with the V-2, and Eisenhower wanted no part of that.
After some more spectacular failures on the launch pad, Eisenhower turned to the Army and Von Braun. Von Braun legitimately loved America which made it easier for Eisenhower’s choice. In sixty days, Von Braun had the Redstone ready for launch. On the night of January 31, 1958 the US launched its first Redstone missile, Explorer 1, from Cape Canaveral, Florida and put its first satellite in orbit. From that point on, Werner Von Braun and his team became a national asset part of NASA that was formed shortly thereafter in July of 1958.
Summarized from an article in the January, 2018 ARMY magazine, “Army played Major Role in Space Race.”