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Willy Ley Papers
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Willy Ley Papers
Ley, Willy, 1906-1969
Willy Ley was a world-renown expert in and proponent of rocketry and space travel. Born in Berlin, Germany on October 2, 1906, Ley attended the Universities of Berlin and Konigsberg and studied astronomy, paleontology, zoology and physics. Beyond these studies however, he developed a passionate interest in rocketry and its potential applications for space travel. Accordingly, he wrote and published his first book, Die Fahrt in den Weltraum (Travel in Outer Space) in 1926 and helped found Germany's early rocketry and spaceflight club, Verein fur Raumschiffahrt or VfR (Society for Space Travel) the following year. In 1929, Ley, along with well-known rocketry theorist Hermann Oberth, acted as a technical consultant on Fritz Lang's film, Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon). Throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s, he continued to write books, as well as numerous articles in German and foreign publications, on the subject of rockets and spaceflight. Once Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, the Nazis pressured Ley to cease publishing his articles in foreign journals and magazines due to rocketry's potential as a weapon in Germany's arsenal. Also, the VfR disbanded during the Nazis' first year in power amid concerns among the membership regarding the interest the German military was taking in their activities. These factors compelled Ley to leave Germany for Britain briefly and then to the U.S. in 1935. He became an American citizen in 1944.
Until World War II, Ley focused his writing career on topics unrelated to rocketry and space travel. He discovered little interest in these fields among the U.S. public. He was successful though, with a number of non-space publications such as Salamanders and Other Wonders and The Lungfish, the Dodo and the Unicorn. From 1940-44, Ley was science editor of the New York newspaper, PM and later lectured as a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. He was also a regular contributor to a myriad of magazines, encyclopedias and digests such as Popular Mechanics, Cowles Encyclopedia and Galaxy. However, once World War II began and especially after Germany launched V-2 missile attacks on Britain in 1944, Ley found himself in great demand as an expert in rocketry. Following the end of the war, his writings, lectures and newspaper, radio and television interviews helped to spur even greater public interest in rockets and their potential for space flight. Additionally, his books on this subject were widely read in the U.S. and around the world. First published in 1944, Ley's Rockets, Missiles, & Space Travel enjoyed a great deal of popularity and justified numerous printings of revised editions. Other highly successful titles that Ley produced during the 1950s and 1960s included The Conquest of Space, The Conquest of the Moon (written with Wernher von Braun and astronomer Fred Whipple) and Beyond the Solar System. Ley, along with von Braun, artist Chesley Bonestell and others, collaborated on a series of space-themed issues of Collier's (1952-54) that helped to foster popular support for future U.S. missions to earth orbit, the moon and the planets.
Aside from his busy career as a prolific author and populizer of rockets and space travel, Ley was also a husband and father of two children. His wife, Olga, was an accomplished ballet dancer, model and author in her own right. The couple had to two daughters, Sandra and Xenia. Ley had hoped to attend the Apollo 11 launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida but died of a heart attack at his home in Jackson Heights, New York, on June 24, 1969. His death came only four weeks before the launch of mankind's first landing on the moon's surface.
1906 October 2 -- Ley born in Berlin, Germany
1920 January 11 -- Smithsonian Institution publishes A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes, a pamphlet written by U.S. rocket scientist Dr. Robert H. Goddard
1923 -- Romanian rocket scientist Hermann Oberth publishes short book, Die Rakate zu den Planetenraumen (The Rocket into Planetary Space)
1926 -- Ley writes and publishes first book, Die Fahrt in den Weltraum(Travel in Outer Space)
1926 March 16 -- Goddard successfully launches first liquid-fueled rocket in Auburn, Massachusetts
1927 July 5 -- Ley helps found Germany's early rocketry and space travel club, Verein fur Raumschiffahrt or VfR (Society for Space Travel)
1929 -- Ley (along with Oberth) acts as a technical consultant for Fritz Lang film, Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon)
1933 January 30 -- Adolf Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany
1935 -- Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky dies
1935 -- Ley leaves Germany for Britain and then to the U.S.
1939 September 1 -- Germany invades Poland – World War II begins
1940 -- Ley begins stint as science editor of New York newspaper, PM
1942 October 3 -- First successful launch of Nazi V-2 (A-4) rocket, Peenemunde, Germany
1944 -- Ley becomes a U.S. citizen
1944 -- Ley publishes first edition of book, Rockets (book would eventually see many revised editions and renamed Rockets, Missiles, & Space Travel)
1944 September 7-8 -- First V-2 rocket attacks on London and Paris
1945 May 8 -- Germany surrenders to Allies
1945 August 10 -- Goddard dies
1945 September 2 -- Japan surrenders to Allies
1945 September 29 -- Wernher von Braun and other captured German rocket scientists are taken to the U.S.
1945 October -- Arthur C. Clarke first proposes concept of communication satellites in Wireless World magazine
1946 April 16 -- First successful launch by the U.S. of a captured V-2
1950 -- Ley publishes book, The Conquest of Space
1952 -- Ley collaborates with von Braun, artist Chesley Bonestell and others on a series of space-themed issues of Collier's
1953 -- Ley collaborates with von Braun and Fred Whipple and publishes book, The Conquest of the Moon
1957 October 4 -- Russia's successful launch of first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1
1958 January 31 -- Successful launch of first U.S. artificial satellite, Explorer 1
1961 April 12 -- Russia's successful launch of first human into space, Yuri Gagarin aboard Vostok 1
1961 May 5 -- Successful launch of first U.S. astronaut into space, Alan Shepard aboard Mercury-Redstone 3 (Freedom 7)
1964 -- Ley collaborates with Bonestell and publishes book, Beyond the Solar System
1969 June 24 -- Ley dies at his home in Jackson Heights, New York
1969 July 16-24 -- Flight of Apollo 11 succeeds in landing U.S. astronauts on the moon
Willy Ley Estate, Purchase, unknown, XXXX-0098, not NASM
48.29 Cubic feet (107 Boxes)
This collection consists of Willey Ley's personal files, including his business correspondence, book contracts, and galley proofs, as well as publicity concerning Dr. Ley and his activities, and inquiries and comments from Ley's readership during his tenure as columnist for Galaxy Magazine (1952-1969). The material also includes articles gathered by Ley on topics ranging from astronomy and space travel to biology and natural parks to mythology, psychic phenomena, and UFOs.
List of Acronyms
AFB -- Air Force Base
ARCAS -- All-Purpose Rocket for the Collection of Atmospheric Soundings
AS -- Apollo-Saturn [spacecraft-launch vehicle stack]
ELDO -- European Launcher Development Organization
GALCIT -- Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology
GAPA -- Ground-to-Air Pilotless Aircraft
GT -- Gemini-Titan [spacecraft-launch vehicle stack]
HASP -- High Altitude Sounding Projectile
IMP -- Interplanetary Monitoring Platform [satellite]
JPL -- Jet Propulsion Laboratory [Pasadena, California]
MA -- Mercury-Atlas [spacecraft-launch vehicle stack]
MOL -- Manned Orbiting Laboratory
NACA -- National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics
NACA RM -- National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, Research Memorandum
NACA TM -- National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, Technical Memorandum
NARTS -- Naval Air Rocket Test Station
NACA TN -- National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, Technical Note
NASA -- National Aeronautics and Space Administration
OGO -- Orbiting Geophysical Observatory
OSO -- Orbiting Solar Observatory
PET -- Propulsion, Experimental
RAT -- Rocket-Assisted Torpedo
UFO -- Unidentified Flying Object
USSR -- Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
VfR -- Verein fur Raumschiffahrt [Society for Space Travel]
Other material: Skin sample from Echo-series satellites.
No restrictions on access
Series 1: Personal Materials
Series 2: Aerospace Subject Files
Series 3: Printed Materials
Series 4: Non-Aerospace Subject Files
Scope and Contents note
The Willy Ley Collection reflects Ley's broad, restless curiosity about the world around him. However, the main thrust of this material emphasizes his intense interest in the aerospace field. Ley's significant contributions as a great proponent, theorist and historian of rocketry and space travel are quite evident in this collection.
For the most part, the collection encompasses the years Ley spent in the U.S., roughly, from the mid 1930s to his death in 1969. Accordingly, very little pertaining to Ley's time in the VfR is found here. This wide array of materials was sold to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum (NASM) by Ley's widow, Olga, in 1970.(1) Later that year, NASM personnel traveled to Ley's home in New York to transfer this collection to the museum. They were careful to maintain the overall order of the collection which reflects its original organizational structure, as well as the research techniques and thinking processes of Ley himself.
The collection of materials listed in the finding aid is arranged into four series. The first series is composed of personal materials that include correspondence, book and article contract materials, galley proofs, manuscript and article drafts, notes, articles, lecture invitations and brochures, photographs, drawings, travel and war-time memorabilia, newspaper and press clippings, book reviews, personal bills and receipts, business cards, children's' report cards and Christmas cards. The materials of this series range in date from the early 1930s to 1969. Except for moving this series to the beginning of the collection, original order was maintained. Additionally, original folder titles were retained (as they were for the rest of the collection). Correspondence, book/article contracts materials, research notes, articles, newspaper and press clippings and miscellaneous personal materials are arranged chronologically while the manuscript drafts, galley proofs and book reviews are organized alphabetically by title.
The second series comprises the bulk --about two-thirds, of the Willy Ley Collection. This series, the aerospace subject files, ranges in date from the late 1800s to 1969, and covers the following topics: biography (Ley and others), aviation, inventions, astronomy, space travel, rockets, artificial satellites, manned space flight, ground support and rocket test centers. The folders include correspondence, photographs, notes, reports, brochures, pamphlets, magazines, articles and newspaper clippings. Original order was maintained for this series. The materials are organized by subject.
The third series consists of printed materials. This series ranges in date from the early 1950s to 1970 and includes various publications (newsletters, pamphlets, journals, reports, directories, magazines and books). Also included are article and newspaper clippings. Ley organized the newsletters by title and then chronologically.
The fourth and final series of this collection contains non-aerospace subject files. Ley's certificates, citations and a scrapbook are found in this series. The certificates and citations are for Ley's civic and professional achievements. The scrapbook contains miscellaneous newspaper clippings regarding rocketry and space travel (in English and German) from the 1930s and 1940s. However, this series, ranging in date from the early 1900s to 1969, mainly encompasses materials not directly related to aviation, rocketry or space travel. Original order was maintained for this series. The materials are organized by subject.
The researcher should note that all the folders (except for those of Series 4) are numbered. This numbering system reflects an effort by NASM's Department of Space History in 1970 to create a rough catalog of the Willy Ley Collection as it was being moved to the museum. Though now obsolete as an index, these penciled numbers were retained and are written in the upper right corner of the folders.
Endnotes: 1. That same year, Mrs. Ley also sold her husband's collection of books and journals to the University of Alabama at Huntsville. Currently, it is known as the Willy Ley Memorial Collection and resides at the University's library. Wernher von Braun and NASA Saturn launch vehicle program manager Arthur Rudolph participated in the dedication ceremony in 1971.
Ley, Willy, 1906-1969
American Interplanetary Society
American Rocket Society
United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration