October 3, 1942: The V-2 rocket becomes the first man-made object to reach space. 

At the time of this launch, the V-2 was called the A-4 (Aggregat-4), the fourth and most successful design of Nazi Germany’s “Aggregate” set of rockets. All of this - the V-2 and Germany’s rocket program - was largely the creation of one Wernher von Braun, who, like many other German scientists, made enormous and indispensable contributions to the United States’s own space program. Although von Braun later stated that he had been “interested solely in exploring outer space”, the V-2’s intended purpose by his higher-ups was destruction (later in the war, it was renamed “V-2”, for “Vengeance Weapon 2”). A missile that could reach space could also potentially reach a city like London, which it eventually did, although the rocket’s potential for destruction was severely limited by its inaccuracy and unreliability.

Three test launches of the V-2 failed before the successful fourth, which was conducted at the Test Stand VII facility along the Baltic Sea. The rocket reached a height of around 90 to 100 km, or just enough to cross the boundary of the Earth’s atmosphere into outer space. Dr. Walter Dornberger, another leading figure in Germany’s rocket program, called that day “the first of a new era in transportation, that of space travel…”. Perhaps he was correct in saying so, but the rocket was to fulfill its role as a weapon of war first. As a weapon, it was incredibly inefficient, despite the fact that its supersonic speed and high trajectory made it almost impossible to touch. In fact, more people were killed building the rockets than by any bombings conducted with them. For this reason and because these bombings began in the summer of 1944, this purported “miracle weapon” had a negligible effect on the actual course of the war.

After the war, the Allies (mostly the United States and Soviet Union) absorbed German rocket technology as well as the scientists who had developed it, and based much of their own rocket technology on the V-2. For this reason, the V-2 can be described as “the progenitor of all modern rockets”, serving as the model upon which the Redstone rockets (which took Alan Shepard into space) were based. 

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