From the BIS Archives: Clarke, Cronkite and von Braun – Anchoring the Future

Arthur C Clarke and Wernher von Braun

June 1966: Two men responsible in their own ways for the launch of many a Moon rocket: Arthur C. Clarke and Wernher von Braun – rocketeers both and fast friends, certain of the coming Space Age.1 One of many rare photos contained in the Society’s archives. Before the end of the decade both men would be responsible for successful missions to the Moon: Arthur Clarke through the cinematic medium of 2001: A Space Odyssey and von Braun via the Apollo programme.

Wally Schirra and Walter Cronkite

Fact and fiction overlap at the interface between imagination and reality: Arthur commentating on the Apollo 11 mission with astronaut Wally Schirra and CBS News anchor-man Walter Cronkite. Cronkite would later provide one of the memorable forewords to Neil McAleer’s definitive biography: Visionary: The Odyssey of Sir Arthur C. Clarke.

“…with our present knowledge, we can respond to the challenge of stellar space flight solely with intellectual concepts and purely hypothetical analysis. Hardware solutions are still entirely beyond our reach and far, far away.

– Wernher von Braun, Space Frontier (first published in Great Britain 1968)

Wernher was instrumental in devising the “hardware solutions” that made the Moon landings possible (and for a while even interstellar travel seemed possible as a result).  Perhaps it’s a shame that one of Wernher’s rockets never launched a mission to Tycho Crater, home to the mysterious TMA -1.  After having seen 2001: A Space Odyssey a mischievous idea occurred to astronaut and lunar module pilot Bill Anders, then preparing for the upcoming Apollo 8 mission: “I remember thinking at the time I saw the picture that it might be worth a chuckle to mention finding a monolith during our Apollo flight.” And as Arthur said in reply: “I have never quite forgiven Bill Anders for resisting the temptation.”2

Cronkite and possibly the most famous newspaper headline in history commemorating the day both Clarke and von Braun had dreamt of since their respective childhoods.

In the end it doesn’t matter; just as Neil Armstrong will always be stepping down the ladder on the side of the Apollo 11 lunar module, so Dr Heywood Floyd’s out-stretched hand will remain equally frozen in time, his fingertips hovering before the surface of a geometrically perfect monolith. Wernher and Arthur’s Moon-shots will play endlessly in the minds of those who watched them happen, immortalised by an engineer and a writer who both knew how to realise the “promise of space.”3

Dr David Baker, editor of Spaceflight, remembers Wernher von Braun:

“For me von Braun was an enigma. A thoroughly pleasant person with a very strong personality and a character to match, subliminally haunted by the role he played in production of the V-2 at the Mittelwerke facility during World War Two. As an administrator he was a strong man but a sensitive one as well, and nobody was too far down the chain of association to be brushed aside as unimportant. He was chatty with the floor sweep and even offered suggestions about how canteen ladies could improve their work hours to suit domestic demands! As a rocket engineer he was not the guru many professed him to be and was reluctant to introduce new management techniques. As a manager of men he was exceptional, always ready to change his mind if argument persuaded him so. But he had a temper, albeit infrequent, and was prone to be over-protective of his “Peenemunders.” The saddest sight was after he left Hunstville and went up to HQ where he was ostracised by those who wanted the Germans ‘out’ as the new “all-American” Shuttle era was coming in. At the end, very few dared show association by walking with him along those long corridors on the 5th floor. He was a giant, but flawed and therefore a very human being indeed.”

Article compiled by Mark Stewart, Editor (Odyssey)


1. The Coming of the Space Age (1967) edited by Arthur C. Clarke
2. Visionary: The Odyssey of Sir Arthur C. Clarke (2011) by Neil McAleer
3. The Promise of Space (1968) by Arthur C. Clarke


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