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A superb archive of 26 items by Dr. Wernher von Braun related to the iconic ‘Man Will Conquer Space Soon!’ series, which appeared in Collier’s Magazine between 1952 and 1954. The astounding archive comprises 17 drawings and schematics, two orbital diagrams, four calculations and graph plots, and three autograph letters. All relate to four of the Collier’s articles: ‘Crossing the Last Frontier,’ ‘Man on the Moon: The Journey,’ ‘Man on the Moon: The Exploration,’ and ‘Baby Space Station.’ These four Collier’s magazines are also included.
Von Braun prepared the original drawings in this archive as reference materials for magazine artists Chesley Bonestell, Fred Freeman, and Rolf Klep, and most are evident as the direct inspiration for the illustrations that grace the pages of Collier’s in the ‘Man Will Conquer Space Soon!’ series. Von Braun’s skillful drawings are filled with engineering detail to provide the Collier’s illustrators with scientifically accurate renderings of the spaceships of the future. In its introduction to the series, Collier’s makes clear: ‘What you will read here is not science fiction.’ Von Braun’s vision was not only fantastic, but scientifically viable—his copious scientific notes and calculations are proof.
Items associated with ‘Crossing the Last Frontier’ by Dr. Wernher von Braun (March 22, 1952):
A pencil drawing entitled “3rd Stage Satellite Vehicle, (landed),” signed and dated in black ink, “Wernher von Braun, 1952.” The drawing shows the satellite vehicle’s third stage from the top and side, identifying the cargo area and the seating plan for its passengers. This third stage of the vehicle is seen in several of the illustrations for ‘Crossing the Last Frontier,’ including Chesley Bonestell’s cover artwork, and illustrations on pages 22, 24, 27, 28, and 29.
A pencil drawing entitled “Detail, Aft position 1st stage, Satellite Vehicle,” signed and dated in black ink, “Wernher von Braun, 1952.” The drawing shows the array of “39 hexagonal exhaust nozzles” from the rear, as well as the support structure from the side. These hexagonal exhaust nozzles are seen in Chesley Bonestell’s cover artwork, and the support hardware is evident in Rolf Klep’s cross-section diagram on page 27.
A pencil diagram entitled “Ellipse of ascent of Satellite Vehicle’s 3rd stage on its trip to Space Station of a period of revolution of 2 hours,” signed and dated in black ink, “Wernher von Braun, 1952.” The diagram portrays the orbital paths of the satellite vehicle and space station around Earth, annotated with velocities and other technical details. A simplified version of this diagram by Rolf Klep, which retains the paths, 1,075 mile altitude, and 15,800 MPH velocity (denoted on von Braun’s diagram as “4.4 mi/sec”), appears on page 28.
A pencil drawing entitled “Recovery of first booster (Satellite Vehicle) shown at moment of ditching,” signed and dated in black ink, “Wernher von Braun, 1952.” The well-done drawing shows the first stage booster described in von Braun’s article with its parachute deployed, awaiting recovery by the ships in the distance. While there is no illustration of this scene in Collier’s, it is described in the text: “The tail section drops behind, while the two upper stages of the rocket ship forge ahead. After the separation, a ring-shaped ribbon parachute, made of fine steel wire mesh, is automatically released by the first stage. This chute has a diameter of 217 feet and gradually it slows down the tail section…After the first stage lands in the water, it is collected and brought back to the launching site.”—from ‘Crossing the Last Frontier’ by Dr. Wernher von Braun, Collier’s, page 28, March 22, 1952. The scene would also play out in reality in the next decade—parachute deployment before splashdown, followed by naval force recovery, became standard fare for all manned American spaceflights.
Items associated with ‘Man on the Moon: The Journey’ by Dr. Wernher von Braun (October 18, 1952):
A highlight of this archive is von Braun’s pencil drawing of the “Round trip ship (debarking on the moon),” showing a cross-section view of the side of his proposed lunar lander. This important sketch served to inspire Chesley Bonestell’s cover artwork for the October 18, 1952 issue of Collier’s, as well as the cutaway illustration of the ‘Passenger Ship’ on page 55 of the magazine. Von Braun envisions the ship as a 160-foot tall structure (nine feet taller than the Statue of Liberty), topped with a personnel sphere able to transport a large crew of scientists and technicians to the lunar surface. Strung throughout the center of the ship are propellant-related tanks, and at the bottom are 30 rocket motors. This sketch is matted and framed to an overall size of 17 x 19.5.
A pencil diagram by von Braun, “Cut A-A, Round trip ship, (as it looks at departure from satellite orbit),” shows a top-down cross-section of the ship, complete with its inner structure and discardable spherical tanks on the sides. In ‘Man on the Moon: The Journey,’ von Braun describes the purpose of these tanks: “Under the radio and mirror booms of the passenger ships hang 18 propellant tanks carrying nearly 800,000 gallons of ammonialike hydrazine (our fuel) and oxygen-rich nitric acid (the combustion agent). Four of the 18 tanks are outsized spheres, more than 33 feet in diameter. They are attached to light frames on the outside of the rocket ship’s structure. More than half our propellant supply—580,000 gallons—is in these large balls; that’s the amount needed for take-off. As soon as it’s exhausted, the big tanks will be jettisoned. Four other large tanks carry propellant for the landing; they will be left on the moon.”—from ‘Man on the Moon: The Journey’ by Dr. Wernher von Braun, Collier’s, page 54, October 18, 1952. On the same page, a diagram by Rolf Klep portrays the jettison of the tanks described by von Braun.
Von Braun’s calculations for the tanks of the “Round trip ship” [view page two] are present in a double-sided sheet headed “Tank volumes,” in which he records figures for the fuel necessary for each of four proposed maneuvers, along with dimensions of the fuel tanks required. On the back of the sheet in red pencil, he notes: “Landing on Moon: ignition 550 miles above moon. 1.02 g take-off initial.” Many of the facts and figures presented here made it into von Braun’s article—he took took great measures to ensure that his concept was not just fantastic, but scientifically viable. He describes the beginning of the descent sequence: “As we near the end of our trip, the gravity of the moon, which is still to one side of us, begins to pull us off our elliptical course, and we turn the ship to conform to this change of direction. At an altitude of 550 miles, the rocket motors begin firing; we feel the shock of their blasts inside the personnel sphere and suddenly our weight returns.”—from ‘Man on the Moon: The Journey’ by Dr. Wernher von Braun, Collier’s, page 59, October 18, 1952.
A page of extensive trigonometric calculations completed by von Braun, as well as an angular diagram, for the trajectories of spacecraft leaving Earth orbit.
A chart by von Braun plotting “Distance from geocenter” against “Velocity in voyaging ellipse,” with 19,500 MPH denoted as “Cut-off point (1)” and 22,200 MPH marked “Perigee.” In the opening lines of the story, von Braun writes: “On the outward voyage, the rocket ships will hit a top speed of 19,500 miles per hour about 33 minutes after departure. Then the motors will be stopped, and the ships will fall the rest of the way to the moon.”—from ‘Man on the Moon: The Journey’ by Dr. Wernher von Braun, Collier’s, page 52, October 18, 1952.
A second chart by von Braun plotting “Radiusvector angle from perigee” against “Hours from perigee (which is 2 minutes more than flight time from ignition maneuver 1).”
Items associated with ‘Man on the Moon: The Exploration’ by Dr. Fred L. Whipple and Dr. Wernher von Braun (October 25, 1952):
An interesting pencil sketch of a tracked vehicle with a crane on the front, labeled “Moon Transport,” annotated with dimensions in red pencil. This type of vehicle is seen in Chesley Bonestell’s illustrations for the article on pages 38, 44, and 45; the “Round Trip Ship” from the previous story reappears in these lunar surface scenes. In the article, von Braun describes these lunar surface vehicles as “tanklike cars equipped with caterpillar treads for mobility over the moon’s rough surface.”
A second rough pencil sketch of a car-like transport vehicle with two wheels is presumably affiliated with ‘The Exploration’ as a working concept; however, the article as published only makes mention of tracked vehicles. On the reverse of this sketch is a crude orbital diagram, annotated with “0.6 mi/sec,” which is the average speed of the moon as it orbits Earth.
Items associated with ‘Baby Space Station’ by Dr. Wernher von Braun with Cornelius Ryan (June 27, 1953):
A chart entitled “Baby Satellite, Orbit and track of ascent,” signed and dated in pencil, “Wernher von Braun, 15 April 1953,” shows the orbital path of the satellite around Earth. It corresponds with the 200-mile distance von Braun describes in his article, which was adorned with the flashy tagline: “An unmanned rocket, whizzing around the earth 200 miles high, pouring vital facts back to ground stations…Scientists now know that’s the first step in the conquest of space.” The story describes what is shown in this diagram: “When the third stage of the vehicle reaches an altitude of 60 miles and a speed of 17,700 miles an hour, the final bank of motors will shut off automatically. The conical nose section will coast unpowered to the 200-mile orbit.”—from ‘Baby Space Station’ by Dr. Wernher von Braun with Cornelius Ryan, Collier’s, page 33, June 27, 1953.
Three technical diagrams, all entitled “Baby Satellite, Mechanism of deployment of solar mirror,” are each signed and dated in pencil, “Wernher von Braun, 20 April 53,” demonstrate the four phases of deployment for the satellite’s solar power plant: “Phase 1: Telescope arm is extended” and “Phase 2: Side mirrors are rotated around hinges at outer rim of central mirror”; “Phase 3: Triple Mirror is rotated around axis A-A’ by servomotor”; and “Phase 4: Side arms of central mirror (and telescoping central mirror’s mercury tube) are extended. Mirror is now ready for use.” Von Braun annotated each of these schematics with additional details, identifying the various parts of the solar mirror mechanism and their operation. The artists’ renditions of the satellite’s solar power plant, inspired by these technical diagrams, can be seen as part of Chesley Bonestell’s cover artwork, as well as Fred Freeman’s basic schematic found on page 35. In both instances, they faithfully reproduce the configuration and curvature seen in von Braun’s diagrams, best represented in his “Phase 4” sketch.
An ALS signed “Wernher,” one page both sides, [view page two] April 20, , to “Connie,” editor of the series Cornelius Ryan, sending some of these sketches. In full: “Fred Freeman left four hours ago, with plenty of dope. Here are some more diagrams. Please run off some photostats, distribute them to Chesley, Rolf and Fred, and rush two stats each of all of them (including those Fred took along) back to me. Fred can explain everything to Fred and you. For Chesley they should be self-explanatory (I hope). After all—he doesn’t show the finer details anyhow. But please ask him to send me his working sketches for a check-up before he tackles the paint brush. Drop me a line about how you like the stuff. If you love it, send an advance, if you don’t let me know what you want changed. I am now tackling the trailers for the Field Station. Fred can tell you about this.” In this letter, von Braun names the three illustrators working on the project—Chesley Bonestell, Fred Freeman, and Rolf Klep—as well as one of the co-authors in the series, Dr. Fred L. Whipple.
A second ALS of the same date (“20 April, late”), also signed “Wernher,” reads: “Dear Connie: Here’s the rest of my sketches. Rush the photostats back to me, will you?”
A rough sketch headed “Radar antenna (3000 Mcps),” with a note to illustrator Fred Freeman, in part: “Fred, I think a 10 ft. Antenna looks so clumsy on roof of trailer. Suggest to mount it on some sort of gun carriage like this.” At the end, he adds: “(This is only an unpretentious sketch).” Although von Braun evidently expected Fred Freeman to illustrate this scene, the gun carriage–type radar antenna is seen on the left side of Klep’s field station illustration.
Two sketches of “Trailer (1),” [view second sketch] seen in the center of Klep’s illustration: the first is a view of the exterior, labeled “Telemeter receiver and Radar trailer (1),” signed and dated, “Wernher von Braun, 20 April 53,” denoting the specifics of its roof-mounted helical receiver antenna; the second is a cross-section diagram of the “Rear wall” and “Floor plan,” signed “Wernher von Braun,” providing a schematic for the trailer’s radar position indicator, radar transmitter, telemeter receiver, tape recorder, and inverters.
Two sketches of “Trailer (2),” [view second sketch] seen on the right side of Klep’s illustration: the first is a view of the exterior, labeled “Television receiver and Command transmitter trailer (2),” signed “Wernher von Braun,” providing specifics for the sizes and functions of its several roof-mounted antennae; the second is a cross-section diagram of its “Floor plan,” showing control panels, transmitters, receivers, screens, and other equipment.
Lengthy ALS signed “Wernher,” three pages both sides, [view page two, page three, page four, page five, page six] April 25, 1953. A letter to “Connie,” editor of the series Cornelius Ryan, discussing several aspects of the headquarters and field stations to be portrayed in the story. In full: “Enclosed find the sketches for Rolf Klep’s headquarters layout. Suggest to pass this letter on to him, along with the sketches. Remarks: In upper left corner of headquarters floorpan you find six boxes marked ‘IBM punchcard machines.’ Suggest Rolf gets himself a folder from IBM for more dope about these machines. They serve a) in part to punch cards from data taken from oscillograms b) in part to tabulate the same data. ‘Digital computers’ (on top of picture, outer), and ‘teleplotting boards’ are likewise standard IBM data reduction and evaluation machines and can likewise be found in IBM pamphlets. We have such pamphlets at the office, but I can’t reach them over the weekend. If Rolf or you go to the next IBM sales office in New York (International Business Machines), and ask for literature about data reduction and evaluation equipment, you’ll get the dope. One type of plotting machines (perhaps not IBM) is shown on page 57 of the enclosed White Sands booklet. Central portion of floorpan should be self-explanatory. Some detail sketches are enclosed. Sorry, I have no picture of an oscillograph, but Rolf will know what they look like. If not, he should get himself a pamphlet on GE oscillographs (largest available types!). The ‘long evaluation table’ should show people looking at long sketches of oscillographs, stretched out and tacked to table. There should also be some rolls of records lying around at ends of table. The ‘viewers’ at bottom of table resemble film viewers such as used by cutters; there should be some useable for the films taken from the TV-pictures, others for Telemeter, oscillograph, record strips. Sketch enclosed, but very crude. The ‘screens’ at right hand side of picture (floorpan) should depict the 1 earth and the 3 animal films. Note, that despite the fact that (according to what you sold me) it takes only 20 minutes to show a film on the screen of a television scene just taken, the entire evaluation of the experiment is strictly ‘post feature.’ The films are taken in the many TV-trailers of all the field stations and must be shipped to headquarters for proper time-wise coordination and evaluation. Suggest to make this point quite clear and to drop the idea of the headquarters being simultaneously one of the field station. Their information is of necessity more than sketchy, since orbit can pass over headquarters only twice in 24 hours (probably less often, since orbit’s period of revolution is not 2 hours like in big satellite). Hence a ‘follow-up’ up the experiment by direct observation through HQ is very controversial, and besides, merely confuses the real issue and the coordination work of the HQ after the experiment is completed. Don’t forget that TV-trailer 2 of ‘field station’ needs 4 TV-antenna (T-type) instead of 2, if Fred provides 3 animal chamber TV cameras, instead of 1. Likewise enclosed is earth view as seen on screen and corrected Freeman drawings of upper stage.”
Two detail sketches of equipment for the headquarters: a sketch labeled “Typical telemeter channel decoder panel” and “Auxiliary panels for telemeter decoding,” showing banks of hardware; and a sketch labeled “Scheme of a ‘Viewer,’” showing a man using a telemeter graph viewer.
The Collier’s series drew widespread attention to von Braun’s vision
In overall fine condition. The Collier’s series drew widespread attention to von Braun’s vision of manned spaceflight—after the success of the first issue, he appeared on TV and radio shows around the nation to discuss the subject. He was soon recruited by Walt Disney, and served as a technical advisor for three TV films about space exploration between 1955 and 1957. These broadcasts brought the idea of the space program into American living rooms nationwide. For the first time, Americans had a vision of space travel not out of Buck Rogers, but grounded in scientific reality as envisioned by the central figure of the coming Space Age.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.