He’s the man credited with putting the “rocket” in Rocket City. Dr. Wernher Von Braun, the first director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, spearheaded NASA’s race into space, putting Huntsville on the map and becoming a household name doing it.
But, he was also a family man. He and his wife raised three children in Huntsville.
Recently, WAAY 31 had the chance to talk to the other Dr. Von Braun, one of his daughters, Margrit, about growing up in Huntsville with a world-famous father, and the ground-breaking work he did here. “You know, looking back, I’m always amazed at how clueless I am and was about it,” she said.
We met under her father’s greatest professional achievement, the Saturn V rocket at Huntsville's U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Margrit Von Braun admits, as a child, she was always a bit confused by her father’s celebrity. “Because I think when you’re a kid you just, whatever is your normal, you don’t think about that much,” she said.
For Margrit, her younger brother, Peter, and older sister, Iris, growing up in Huntsville and witnessing first-hand the fruition of the greatest technological achievement of all time was their ‘normal.’ "So we didn't think of it as particularly amazing that we were going to the moon.," she said. "It was just something we were going to do!"
Margrit was born and raised here. Huntsville is her hometown, and she has fond memories of her childhood in the Rocket City, even if her experiences were decidedly other-worldly when compared to the rest of us. "We did have astronauts over for dinner. But, again, it was just like, 'Well, who's that guy?' You know?" said Margrit.
Margrit Von Braun didn’t follow in her famous father’s footsteps, but his work did inspire her career. The famous picture of earth rising over the moon, taken during the Apollo 8 mission (known as “earthrise”) inspired her to pursue environmental engineering, improving this planet rather than her father’s passion for discovering new ones. "I think we've discovered something like four thousand planets," she said, "but none of them seem to be quite as magical as this one. So we better take care of this one too before we just look for another home. It's not going to be that easy to do."
Standing in front of a mock-up of her father’s office, now on display at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, she recalls Marshall Space Flight Center through the eyes of a child. "I remember going on the weekend one time with my sister and we got to roller skate up and down the halls. That was pretty fun," she said.
Despite the pressure her father and his team must have been under to keep the Apollo mission on track, she says her father never put the Saturn project ahead of his family. They ate dinner as a family. And had fun together. Sundays were family days -cookouts and watersports - and hours of boating on Lake Guntersville.
"We waterskied and swam and played. And that was a day when he didn't take his briefcase. That was really a sacred day for the family. We never felt like he wasn't there for us. When he was there, he didn't want to talk about work. He wanted to know what we were up to."
Believe it or not, the man who could design some of the most complex machines on the planet, Margrit says, wasn’t much help much around the house! "He was not the most handy person," she recalled. "There, the stereotype of a rocket scientist probably comes true - that they can't really hammer a nail and stuff like that."
Margrit understands the place her father holds in history. It’s the place he holds in her heart that she treasures most. "Well, you know, people would come up and say, 'Oh your dad's Werhner Von Braun!' I mean I still get that occasionally. But, again, he was just my dad. I just knew him as my father."