US German Rocket Team
Grady’s Space Chronicles
U.S. GERMAN ROCKET TEAM - The Beginning of the End
One First Lady visited the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on behalf of a President. It was Lady Bird Johnson, who was sent on a scheduled visit of President Johnson, who did not come for a tour on March 23, 1964.
Many of us were at the Redstone Airstrip when Air Force Two arrived, it looked like Air Force One but, when the First Lady came down the steps and the President did not, we knew the President was not coming. We all were heart broken as this meant the President was not interested in our plans following the moon shot or our rocket team’s future.
We had worked so hard to prepare for the President’s visit. It was to be one of the most important days in our history as we so dearly wanted to impress the President on our accomplishments and our planned desire to send a manned mission to Mars as well as other space missions following up the moon shot.
We had information that the President was building a space complex in Texas and did not favor our projects and was taking the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) down to a lower level. Washington wanted to take more control over the German Rocket Team’s power of control. However, we gave the First Lady the royal tour in hopes that she could explain to the President about our “can do” accomplishments and our Mars plans.
Since the President did not come, Dr. von Braun assigned our Manufacturing Laboratory, Manufacturing Development Division Chief, Fred Weckwarth, to give Mrs. Johnson the tour. As we trailed along with the touring group, we could hear Weckwarth, once a tennis star, explain all of our previous hardware, it’s success and our new models and plans on display. He was desperately trying his best to keep the MSFC in the space battle with the Russians.
Lady Bird Johnson listen and asked questions as she was really doing her best. We were impressed with her knowledge of space and the hard work she put into her mission. We will never forget the effort the First Lady did to help us in the space program. She did make her report to the President. Due to politics, we found out later it was to no avail, the decisions had all ready been made. This was the beginning of the end for the German Rocket Team.
A total of four sitting U.S. Presidents have landed in Air Force One at the Redstone Army Airfield. In addition, the facility has supported the visit of another chief executive who landed at the Huntsville-Madison County Jetplex. The first to visit was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who came to Redstone on September 8, 1960, to dedicate NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. John F. Kennedy came to the arsenal for the first time in September 11, 1962 for a "… two-day visit to compile first hand information on the progress of America's Space Program." On May 18, 1963, Kennedy returned to Redstone, where he delivered a speech at the airfield as a part of that year's Armed Forces Day celebration.