Friday, February 15, 2013

Rocket Powered Wagon

While in Huntsville the other day, I was able to take a few moments out of my much too busy day to expand my mind by making my first ever visit to the Marshall Space Flight Center Space and Rocket Museum. I highly recommend a visit there for anyone fascinated by space flight and rockets.

There is a revealing and interesting exhibit at the museum devoted to the Von Braun who really became the driving force behind the US space program in the years following his escape from the crumbling Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. Had he not made the decision to surrender to the American, he and many of his associates would have become Soviet scientists helping their space program.
Rocket Powered Wagon on Display at the
Marshall Space Flight Center Museum

One of the items in the museum which caught my fancy was a rocket powered wagon that Von Braun experimented with as a child.

It is a simple wagon equipped with six strap on rockets. The story goes that,

 "At the age of 12 he tried his first practical rocket experiment. He strapped six rockets to a small wagon, and lit them up. The wagon performed beyond his wildest dreams and careened about crazily, trailing a tail of fire like a comet. When the rockets finally burned out, ending their sparkling performance with a magnificent thunderclap, the wagon rolled majestically to a halt. The police, who arrived late for the beginning of his experiment, but in time for the grand finale, were unappreciative. They took young Wernher into custody. Fortunately, no one was injured and he was released to the Minister of Agriculture, his father. So began a career in rocketry that changed human history." 

I had to smile at the thought of the unmanned wagon wildly careening down the street powered by rockets. And then, I realized, that in today's America such a raw display of genius and creativity would be met with jail time and law suits. How different our society has become. ALthough I recognize that we no longer need to have children "kick the tires and light the fires" of their wagons to better understand how rockets work, I wonder where we a stifling that raw creativity with our stodgy, incredibly law oriented society.

I will treasure the image of a boy watching his wagon shoot off down a street in early-20th century Germany powered by two home made rockets. Raw creativity and genius.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, Md

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