Last known member of US' German moon rocket design team dies

May 7, 2015 byJay Reeves
Last known member of US' German moon rocket design team dies
In this photo taken Sept. 2, 2008, engineer Oscar Carl Holderer, one of Wernher von Braun's original "Operation Paperclip" team members, holds some technical drawings in his home shop behind his house in Huntsville, Ala. Holderer, the last known surviving member of the German engineering team that came to the United States after World War II and designed the rocket that took astronauts to the moon, died Tuesday, May 5, 2015 in Huntsville, Ala. He was 95. (Eric Schultz/AL.com via AP)

The last known surviving member of the German engineering team that came to the United States after World War II and designed the rocket that took astronauts to the moon has died.

Oscar Carl Holderer died Tuesday in Alabama, son Michael Holderer said Wednesday. He was 95.

Holderer said his father suffered a stroke last week and did not recover.

Born in Germany the year after World War I ended, Holderer came to the United States in 1945 with a group of 120 rocket engineers led by Wernher von Braun. Their move was part of a project called "Operation Paperclip" that transferred technology for the German V-2 and other rockets to the United States.

"He brought our first rocket wind tunnel in this country from Germany and personally set it up," said Ed Buckbee, a space historian and former NASA publicist.

First based at White Sands, New Mexico, the team moved in 1950 to north Alabama's Redstone Arsenal, where they used early computers, slide rules and pencils to design the Saturn V that first took astronauts to the lunar surface in 1969.

Holderer said his father—a mechanical engineer, designer and fabricator who became a U.S. citizen in 1955—designed the high-speed wind tunnel that was used to develop Saturn and then oversaw its construction at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, located at Redstone.

"He was one of the more hands-on members of the team," said Holderer. "He had his own machine shop here in town as a hobby."

Some members of the von Braun team eventually returned to Germany and others spread out across the United States after retirement, but Holderer was the last known survivor of the original group, Buckbee said.

"He was a very talented man, not only an aeroballistics expert but very accomplished in design and fabrication," said Buckbee.

While von Braun and some high-level members of his team faced questions about alleged Nazi ties, Holderer didn't. "He was just never at that level of supervision," Buckbee said.

Following his retirement from NASA in 1974, Holderer built training devices that are still in use at the state-run U.S. Space and Rocket Center, located near NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Working in his shop, Holderer converted the tail section of a jetliner into a small theater for the museum.

"They would tilt it back to simulate acceleration," said Holderer.

Survivors include his wife, two sons and two stepchildren. The family will hold a visitation Friday, followed by private interment.

Explore further: From V-2 rocket to moon landing

Related Stories

From V-2 rocket to moon landing

February 23, 2012

He was a handsome, charismatic, brilliant, onetime member of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party and SS paramilitary force. He also was a hero in the United States hailed for helping to land the first man on the moon.

Cause sought for space-supply rocket explosion

October 29, 2014

NASA and officials from a commercial rocket company are searching for debris and answers following the explosion of a rocket and cargo module that were to deliver supplies to astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

Recommended for you

Paleontologists report world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex

March 22, 2019

University of Alberta paleontologists have just reported the world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex and the largest dinosaur skeleton ever found in Canada. The 13-metre-long T. rex, nicknamed "Scotty," lived in prehistoric Saskatchewan ...

NASA instruments image fireball over Bering Sea

March 22, 2019

On Dec. 18, 2018, a large "fireball—the term used for exceptionally bright meteors that are visible over a wide area—exploded about 16 miles (26 kilometers) above the Bering Sea. The explosion unleashed an estimated 173 ...

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.