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Posted Mar 16, 2012

Missile to Moon

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APT Documentary Premieres in March Several events in Huntsville this month will recognize the 100th birthday of rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun. Missile to Moon, a new production from Alabama Public Television’s award-winning documentary team, examines the story of von Braun and Alabama’s significant contribution to the exploration of space. The program premieres Tuesday, March 27 at 7:00pm. Missile to Moon tracks the evolution of Huntsville from the “Watercress Capital of the World” to “Rocket City, USA,” Wernher von Braun’s journey from German rocket engineer to American hero, and the role this unlikely combination played in thrusting the United States into the forefront of the Space Age. Von Braun, who was born into German aristocracy in eastern Prussia in 1912, was a mediocre student in school – until, apparently, he became obsessed with the idea of space travel. Consumed by an interest in rockets, he received his doctorate in the early 1930s and became active in an amateur rocket group in Berlin. Here he caught the attention of leaders of the rising Third Reich, who would press von Braun into service developing the infamous V-2 rockets that would terrorize the Allies during World War II. An ocean away in Alabama, the sleepy town of Huntsville experienced major changes during the war. More than 500 families, including 300 tenants and sharecroppers, were displaced in 1941 by the U.S. War Department for the creation of an arsenal and chemical weapons facility. During the war years, 27 million items of chemical munitions and more than 45 million ammunition shells were loaded in Huntsville. At war’s end, production facilities in Huntsville were put on standby. The wartime civilian workforce of 4,400 dwindled to 600 and by 1947, the installation was declared to be “excess.” This is where the story of Wernher von Braun and the city of Huntsville came together – and history was made. Missile to Moon tracks the work done by von Braun in Huntsville, first for the military, and then for the conquest of space after the creation of NASA. It was this later work – putting men into space – that von Braun had been dreaming of and writing about for years. “He had envisioned these missions much earlier than anyone else had. He understood how you successfully put a human in space – and how you support that human,” says Ed Buckbee, the first director of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. Von Braun proved to have a talent for leading the complicated endeavor, and success followed success – Mercury, Gemini, Apollo. In the early 1960s, even before Apollo had reached the moon, von Braun was looking forward to bigger missions. He talked about sending “busloads” of astronauts into space, in launch vehicles that would return to earth – the idea behind the space shuttle program. Asked by reporter Edward R. Murrow if there was any limit to the size of an object you could send into space, von Braun replied “the only limitation I know of is the taxpayer.” In addition to Ed Buckbee, interviews with a number of NASA engineers, writers and historians help tell the story of von Braun and Huntsville. These include Dr. Michael J. Neufeld of the Smithsonian Institution; Dr. James R. Hansen, author of First Man; Dr. Stephen Waring, co-author of Power to Explore; retired NASA engineers Max Rosenthal and Chuck Verschoore; and Bob Ward, author of Dr. Space. Support for Missile to Moon was provided by Alabama Power and The Daniel Foundation of Alabama. Christopher Holmes Christopher Holmes is the Production Director for Alabama Public Television. He served as executive producer for the regional Emmy and Telly Award- winning documentaries “Sloss: Industry to Art” (which he directed as well) and “Alabama Craft: Tradition and Innovation” as well as APT’s regional Emmy and Telly Award-winning music series “We Have Signal.” Holmes earned four regional Emmy Awards for his work on the APT films “Mr. Dial Has Something to Say” and “Alabama Remembers: WWII” prior to joining APT full-time. He directed the one-hour music documentary "Sucarnochee: A Revue of Alabama Music” that premiered in October 2011 on APT. Holmes is a graduate of Florida State University and a member of the National Association of Television Arts and Sciences. About Alabama Public Television Alabama Public Television, established in 1955, was America’s first statewide public television network. Affiliated with the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), it is a seven-day-a-week educational resource for Alabamians of all ages through online services, analog and digital television programming, documentary production and outreach activities. For more information about APT, visit www.aptv.org.

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Wernher von Braun at desk with models and poster.

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Wernher von Braun stands in front of horizontal Saturn V (higher resolution)

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Wernher von Braun with globe in his office (higher resolution)

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Von Braun at Redstone event in 1961 (high resolution).

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Werner von Braun stands with a globe in his office.

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Werner von Braun at an event at Redstone.

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Wernher von Braun at his desk in Huntsville.

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Wernher von Braun stands in front of rocket engines

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Wernher von Braun at Army Ballistic Missile Center

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Chris Holmes, APT Executive Producer

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