Tuesday 16 January 2018

Obituary: Oscar Holderer

German scientist who worked on the 1969 Apollo 11 moon rocket

Oscar Holderer with his technical drawings Photo: AP
Oscar Holderer with his technical drawings Photo: AP
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Oscar Holderer, who has died aged 95, was the last-known survivor of the team of German rocket scientists who moved to America after World War II under the leadership of Wernher von Braun, and worked on the Saturn V rocket which launched the crew of Apollo 11 on the first manned space flight to the Moon in 1969.

When the Allies advanced into Germany during the final days of the war, American and Soviet armies rushed in from opposite directions to grab the spoils of the German rocket programme and the scientists who had developed the V-2, the world's first long-range guided ballistic missile.

The Russians captured the German rocket centre, but the programme's director, the 33-year-old Wernher von Braun, and 126 fellow scientists surrendered to the Americans, taking with them a collection of top-secret technical papers.

Through "Operation Paperclip", t he Germans signed work contracts with the US government and were spirited away to America by the Office of Strategic Services. Within weeks, they were installed in Fort Bliss, New Mexico, where they were soon designing rockets that would give America the edge in the Cold War. Later they moved to Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama, where they used early computers and slide rules to design the Saturn V. Oscar Carl Holderer was born on November 4, 1919 in Prum, Germany, and, after training as an engineer, became a wind-tunnel designer and aeroballistics expert on the German rocket programme.

In America he designed the high-speed wind tunnel used in the Saturn project and also designed the US Space Programme's multi-axis trainer, 5DF, and a one-sixth gravity chair, which is still in use at the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.

Some years after the war, attention began to focus on the activities of some of von Braun's team during the war, and in particular the use of slave labour in the V-2 factories. But Holderer, who took US citizenship in 1955, never faced questions over his Nazi connections or wartime role and was proud to be an American.

He chose to live in north-west Huntsville and become part of the local community. Visitors were sometimes offered tours of the machine shop he had built at his home.

Holderer, who died on May 5, is survived by his wife, Jan, and by two sons.

Sunday Independent

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