Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Flashes from the Past: He failed math and was arrested...

He wasn't a star pupil. He failed math one year, and was arrested for hitching up a wagon to some skyrockets. He admitted didn't care for school very much, but had other interests: "A fellow student and I had a far more absorbing project than our school books. We were building an automobile in my father's garage."

Then one day, "I saw in an astronomy magazine an ad about a book called "The Rocket to the Interplanetary Spaces," by Hermann Oberth. I wrote for it at once. To become an engineer and to build such rockets -- that would be a challenge worth living for, I figured.

When the book arrived, I opened it breathlessly. To my consternation, I couldn't understand a word. Its pages were a baffling conglomeration of mathematical symbols and formulas.

Rushing to my math teacher, I cried, "How can I understand what this man is saying?"

To my dismay, he told me to study math and physics. But in the glamorous prospect of a life devoted to space travel, these subjects took on new meaning for me. Determined to master them, I buried myself in their mysteries, and after a few years I even succeeded in graduating a year ahead of my class."

Who was this fellow? This was Wernher von Braun, the father of modern rocketry. Love can do amazing things. It made him learn complex math.

Another interesting note on von Braun's life. He entered a field (rocket propulsion) that didn't exist when he was a boy. It seemed enough to just learn what he needed to know.

Recollections of Rocketry

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