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Paper models, photos and musings of a Paper Kosmonaut

21 April 2011

Credits for whom?

Isn't is a little bit strange that so many people attribute certain (joint) efforts in space industry to one person? How many times did I read or hear people saying Wernher von Braun 'made' the Saturn rocket?

Oh yes, he designed the concept but he didn't actually really design the separate rocket stages. He had a very big hand in designing the Saturn 1 (and 1b) first stage that was built by Chrysler, who also made the Redstone. After all, the Redstone was Von Braun's, it being a distant cousin of the A4 (or V2).
But the Saturn V as it came to be was mainly designed by three separate aircraft companies: Boeing (S1C), North American (SII and spacecraft) and Douglas (SIVb). The conceptual idea and supervision might have been by Von Braun but the actual design and manufacturing of the stages was done by others. In parts it even was an evolutionary process, like in the third stage, the Douglas SIVb. When the design phase of the Saturn V started they didn't even know yet whether to use Earth Orbit Rendez-vous or Lunar Orbit Rendez-vous. That choice had some big influences on the appearance of the definitive model. Wernher von Braun might have had the first ideas and a lot to say about the design but in the end it was a very joint effort.
So why is it that people often speak of "Von Braun's Saturn V"? We never speak of Karel Bosschaert's Atlas, although he actually designed it. It's always been Convair's (and now Lockheed Martin's). Maxime Faget's Mercury? No. It's McDonnell's Mercury, even though Faget came with the blunt end design and the bell-shape.
Perhaps it is the same as people might say "The rescuers" was made by Walt Disney, even though the good man was already dead for eleven years when that film was made. People need to put at least one well-known name on a project that achieved a significant milestone.

Wernher von Braun was an outstanding rocket scientist and he had some brilliant ideas. But he didn't do it all by himself. (I sometimes get the impression his Russian colleague Sergei Pavlovitch Korolyov did, though...)

I recently saw a very well crafted resin model of the F-1 rocket engine which had a placard that kind of suggested Von Braun had a hand in its existence. And that is not the case.
The F-1 came to be because in the mid-fifties the United States Air Force wanted Rocketdyne to design the biggest engine they could dream of, just in case they needed a huge rocket to launch an enormous warhead to the Russkies. When Rocketdyne came up with the design the USAF realised they no longer needed the engine since warheads became smaller and smaller. The military said thanks but no thanks and dropped the F1. Then in 1958 NASA came along and saw potential in an engine that big. Such a big mother could easily lift their rockets to space and the moon. They ordered Rocketdyne to develop the engine further into a working prototype and not long after that they dreamed up the Nova booster which eventually was replaced with what became the Saturn V.
So although Von Braun could take advantage of the big engine it was never his idea. If one man should get more credit for this machine it would be Ernest Lamont, who designed the huge turbopump in the heart of the engine.

I think for their efforts in this industry, most designers unfortunately never got the credits they ought to have earned. And that is a pity. So if you do know the designer, give them the credits they deserve.
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