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Wernher von Braun's Complicated Legacy in Space Exploration


Forum Post Assignment Instructions 2021
Space exploration is not just about science and engineering, it is fundamentally a social process. The assignment is designed to bring critical thinking into the course through questions about the social aspects of space exploration past and present. To do so you will respond to questions I have posted in the forums section of OWL. Each question comes with a required reading to kickstart your thinking on the topic. In providing your thoughts on the question you are also expected to reference course material (at least 2 other materials). It is also expected that you will seek out additional “quality” materials to inform your responses. 

What is a “quality source”? This assignment is a bit different from the final project. The expectations for the final project are that it is completed using only the higest academic quality research (peer-reviewed articles and edited academic texts as highest quality), these forum posts lean more towards “popular” style referencing and writing. In this sense the expectations are relaxed to include popular websites, news, or opinion pieces from Scientific American, National Geographic, the New York Times, or other reputable sources. However, there is still an expectation of quality in these “popular” sources. Blog posts and “news sites” which are hosted by people with limited expertise or qualifications are to be
avoided. Like all research and writing, the onus is on you, as the writer, to decide whether a source should be included (librarians and TAs are valuable sources of information in making these decisions). Materials deemed “low quality” will fail to meet the criteria for marks in the marking rubric. 

This assignment will be submitted via the Forums section on OWL. Each student will submit two forum entries throughout the year. Forum posts will be anonymous to your fellow class-mates. The reason the assignment is being done in forums is for students to be able to see the multitude of perspectives that can exist for the social aspects of space exploration.

Question Options Forum Post 1:
Option 1: What is von Braun’s legacy in space exploration? Should he be held in reverence, or as a cautionary tale?
Option 2: Consider the relationship between space exploration and nationalism. What is the historical context for a relationship between the two? Good or bad, what are the potential consequences of any relationship between nationalism and space exploration?
Question Options for Forum Post 2:
Option 1: What is your vision of space exploration in your lifetime? Human missions to Mars or something less grand? Outline the accomplishments you want to see in your lifetime and justify why humanity should take them on.
Required Reading: Do We Really Need to Send Humans Into Space?
Option 2: Are the messages we send into outer space a big deal? Should we be trying to contact aliens? If so, how?
Required Reading: The Geography of Space Exploration: The Vinyl Frontier


Late Assignments
As with all assignments in this course, there will be a 10% per day deduction for assignments posted after the due date.

As with all assignments in this course, discovery of plagiarism will lead to a mark of 0. This includes copying the text of a classmate or an online source. To avoid plagiarism, follow APA guidelines around quoting text and proper attribution. Responses will be compared to previous years’ responses using Turnitin.

Wernher von Braun, a former member of the Third Reich, was known for this contributions in the developing of German aerospace and rocket technology – specifically the V-2 missile. Despite his contributions in the United States (US) Space Program, critiques such as Michael Neufield raises questions concerning how von Braun was seemed oblivious to the exploits of the SS, the concentration camps and the exploitation of slave labor in the V-2 development projects respectively (Tedeschi, 2008). Thus, with this respect the following essay aims to argue in support of the notion that von Braun’s legacy and contributions to space exploration must be met with caution. To strengthen the same, this paper particular focuses on the ethical ambiguity and complexities in demeanor which von Braun demonstrated while engaging in rocket and space technology exploration, amidst the Holocaust and the functioning of the Nazi concentration camp respectively.

One of the first arguments which support the notion that von Braun’s legacy is a precautionary tale, is his extensive usage of slave labor during the development of the German aerospace project, that is, the V-2 missile for war. After the second World War and while collaborating with the US Government, von Braun claimed that he held no knowledge of the Holocaust and that, even though he was aware of the exploitative practices of the Third Reich – he felt powerless, trapped and the inability to do anything to mitigate the same (Huddleston, 2021). Nevertheless, ironically, by the age of 30 years, von Braun already regulated the working of 4000 slaves for the development of the V-2 missile which was to be used for combat since the Nazis were faltering by the end of the Second World War This implied that he was well aware of the power and resources which the Nazi government had entrusted upon him, as a means of using the V-2 missile during combat (Johnson Jr, 2019). Additionally, his claims of feeling trapped and unable to do anything would otherwise demonstrate that von Braun was saddened and disliked the Third Reich. However, during the war and during his contributions in the V-2 missile development, it was evident that he was an ardent follower of the Nazi Government – thus demonstrating how celebrating his legacy with reverence overlooks the complexities in his compliance to ethical responsibility. In criticism, such arguments must be refuted with the claim that it would be unlikely for von Braun’s superiors to consider his ethical concerns and halt their exploitative operations respectively (Tedeschi, 2008; Sturdevant, 2018). According to Dunnett et al., (2019), labor geographies – or the effort demonstrated by workers in the construction, launching, maintaining and repairing of space projects – have been largely considered to be insignificant, resulting in their marginalization and viewing space exploration with only capitalist perspectives. In this case, despite fully knowing the consequences and intent of the Third Reich, von Braun was still personally responsible for continuing to contribute to missile development projects using slave labor. Revering his legacy with celebration rather than as a sign of caution, discreetly perpetuates the capitalist culture of being inconsiderate towards the humanitarian needs of marginalized workers who hold significant contributions in contemporary space development projects respectively (Tedeschi, 2008; Dunnett et al., 2019). 

Late Assignments

The next argument which supports the notion of the importance of viewing von Braun’s legacy as a precautionary tale is the fact that not only did he view the practice of space exploration on personal terms, but also emphasized upon it to the extent where the mention of the holocaust was completely missing in his story of Peenemunde (Tedeschi, 2008). According to Rothery (2010), in his book ‘Planets: A Very Short Introduction’ – space exploration paves the way for technological innovation and scientific research in a country by demonstrating possibilities of life and also exploring existing meteors, geologies and geographies in other planets. Likewise, in the case of von Braun, his dream to explore space was largely personal. For this reason, when he crossed the appropriate age for personally doing so and was approached by the Nazi army to build the V-2 missile – he viewed the same an opportunity to live his personal dream and immersed himself in doing the same (Tedeschi, 2008). However, to refute the same, it is worthwhile to note that von Braun was extremely talented in the field of rocketry for Germany, the US and also for the Soviet Union and had grown to be a popular figure in American culture. In criticism, such accomplishments and accolades does not imply that the ambiguity of his moral compass during the Second World War be completely overlooked (Bergaust, 2017). In his letters and conversation with the US Government, von Braun expressions demonstrated that he viewed the slave labor and the exploitation of the Nazis with limited remorse in which he had no responsibility to mitigate whatsoever. As mentioned previously, despite expressing his disapproval of the SS and the happenings in concentration camps, von Braun mentioned little about the same to the US Government and even continued to be an argent followed of the Third Reich respectively (Tedeschi, 2008; O’Brien & Sears, 2011). Such arguments thus demonstrate von Braun’s legacy was complex and ethically questionable which is why the same must be treated with caution and a lesson to prevent future exploitation of human labor in contemporary space exploration projects respectively (Tedeschi, 2008).

Wernher von Braun is best known as the prisoner of the US Space Program and for his extensive contributions in encouraging the development of German aerospace technology. Not surprisingly, his tale and legacy of reverence has greatly overlooked how von Braun demonstrated little to no ethical responsibility in the usage of slave labor for his development of the V-2 missile. He also demonstrate ambiguity and ignorance towards the exploits of the Nazis – the extent where he denied the existence of the horrors undertaken by the Third Reich in the concentration camps respectively. Such arguments, to conclude, thus successfully strengthen the argument that von Braun’s legacy should be viewed with caution as a means of highlighting the importance of complying with ethical responsibility during space exploration respectively.

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