Walt Disney was fascinated by the conquest of space and an ardent support of the program set up by NASA. To the point of working with Wernher von Braun, an ex-Nazi scientist in charge of the program, on an educational program that will make a mark.
Brilliant builder of a sprawling empire coupled with a visionary spirit, waltz disney has left a truly gigantic imprint on the cultural world, beyond measure. Fascinated by stories about the conquest of space, he was particularly enthusiastic about the idea of accompanying, in his own way, the space program set up by NASA in the 1950s, which will ultimately aim to send the first man on the moon.
In the early 1950s, with the impressive growth of the arrival of television in American homes, Walt Disney wanted to produce programs that were both entertaining and educational; what he will also call “education”.
Why not devote one to the conquest of space? And as long as you work on it, you might as well hire the services of the person who will play a major role in the American space program. A renowned ex-Nazi SS scientist: Wernher von Braun.
A Nazi scientist exfiltrated by the Americans
Born in 1912 in Posnania, and died on June 16, 1977 in Alexandria, Virginia, Wernher von Braun was during the Second World War one of the main engineers who had allowed the flight of German rockets of the V2 type, the first ballistic missile of the story.
Raised in the administration of the Third Reich to the rank of SS-Sturmbannführer (equivalent to the rank of commander)Von Braun was transferred to the United States after the German capitulation during the famous operation paper clip, which aimed to exfiltrate and recruit nearly 1,500 German scientists from the military-industrial complex of Nazi Germany to fight against the USSR, and recover the secret weapons of the Third Reich. Naturalized American in 1955, Braun played a major role in the development of rockets, in particular those which allowed the American space conquest during the Apollo program.
Between March 1952 and April 1954, von Braun published, alongside other scientists, a series of articles in a famous magazine called Necklace’s. A magazine that will be read by 4 million Americans, where he notably outlines his vision of the conquest of space.
These articles catch the eye of Ward Kimbal (1914-2002), one of the main collaborators of Walt Disney. At that time, with the impressive growth of the arrival of television in American homes, Disney wanted to produce programs that were both entertaining, but also educational; what he will also call “education”. Shows that will be a huge success. Success all the more massive since it is estimated that in 1952, 15 million American homes had television. In 1954, they are 26 million.
That year, Ward Kimbal convinced Walt Disney to devote a program (which incidentally changed names several times during its existence) to Man in Space. Disney then hired Wernher von Braun, the world’s foremost rocket expert, as technical adviser on three shows, supported by Heinz Haber, a specialist in emerging space medicine.
If von Braun is therefore a technical advisor, he will even present certain sequences. The first show, titled man in spacelasting 49 minutes, was broadcast on March 9, 1955. More than 42 million Americans remained glued to their screens, stars in their eyes, dreaming of space conquest.
The success of the show was such that it will be rebroadcast three months later, on June 15, and again on September 7. An abridged version, this time in Technicolor, will even be shown in cinemas shortly before the film is shown. Davy Crockett and the River Piratesin July 1956. In total, it is estimated that more than 100 million Americans will see this broadcast.
Below, an excerpt from the show “Man in Space” in Technicolor version, with Wernher von Braun…
The second broadcast Man and the Moonwhich evokes in particular the construction of a space station, was diffused on December 28, 1955. The third emission, Mars and Beyondwill be broadcast on December 4, 1957, two months after the launch of the satellite Sputnik 1 by the USSR.
It related in particular the speculations around a supposed presence of intelligent life on Mars, and described an expedition inhabited on the red planet. Didactic, fun, scientifically unassailable, these programs were of great quality. It is also said that the President of the United States at the time, Dwight D. Eisenhower, asked for a copy of the first broadcast to show it to his collaborators.
Here is an excerpt from “Mars and Beyond”..
In April 1965, ten years after their first collaboration, Wernher von Braun invited Walt Disney and his brother Roy (among other guests) to visit NASA’s three main space centers: the human spaceflight center located in Houston, Texas; the Kennedy Space Center located in Florida, and the Marshall Space Center located in Huntsville, Alabama, of which von Braun is the director.
“Just a few years ago I had the pleasure of working with you on a project that has proven to be most prophetic. I know that you have maintained a keen interest in our space program, and in particular spaceflight That’s why you might find it interesting to come and see for yourself how prescient you were.” von Braun addressed Walt Disney. Who could only be proud of such a collaboration and mark of esteem.