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Military Origins of the Space Race

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The V-2 Missile
The Corporal Missile
The Ultimate Weapon
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The U.S. Army brought captured V-2 missile parts to White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico, for its Project Hermes missile development program, managed by General Electric. Wernher von Braun and his team were housed at nearby Fort Bliss, Texas. They advised General Electric personnel in the reassembly, testing, firing, and evaluation of the missiles.

The first firings, in 1946, used all-German components. Later, modified American-made components were substituted to gain practical experience and to improve the basic missile design.

U.S. Army Ordnance Col. Holger Toftoy confers with Wernher von Braun.
von Braun & Toftoy
64 k jpeg
SI#: A-4075
V-2 engine
91 k jpeg
SI#: 79-13162
A General Electric technician inspects captured German V-2 engines at White Sands in late 1945.
Reassembled missiles were shipped on their original German transporters from the vehicle assembly buildings to the firing facilities 10 kilometers (6 miles) away.
Reassembled missiles
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This V-2 missile was reconstructed by the U.S. Air Force using components from several missiles and was exhibited at the Air Force Technical Museum in Park Ridge, Illinois. The Smithsonian received it from the Air Force in 1954. Technicians spent more than 2,000 hours restoring it to its present appearance, which is patterned after the first successful test missile fired from Peenemünde in October 1942. These markings made the missile easily visible for accurate assessment of its flight performance. The irregular surface of the missile reflects the condition of the original skin.

Transferred from the U.S. Air Force

Gallery shot of V-2
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The Museum's V-2 missile, when originally displayed by the Air Force, bore the paint scheme of a wartime, camouflaged V-2.
Length: 14 m (46 ft)
Weight: 12,800 kg (28,000 lb)
Range: 240-305 km (150-190 mi)
Maximum altitude: 80 km (50 mi) for 240-km (150-mi) range
Propellants: alcohol and liquid oxygen
Manufacturer: German Army Ordnance
V-2 Missile in camouflaged paint
128 k jpeg
An American-made V-2 engine and other components are displayed in the Museum's Rocketry and Space Flight gallery.


The development of large-scale missile technology in the Soviet Union, as in the United States, was influenced by the German V-2. In 1947 the Soviet Union launched its first V-2 assembled from German parts. A year later, the U.S.S.R. launched the first V-2 built in that country. This missile was called R-1.

The Soviets went on to develop a variety of sounding rockets and missiles based on the V-2. They gradually increased engine thrust, made the body larger, and integrated propellant tanks with the missile's skin. These technical refinements increased the missile's range. The R-5, the last Soviet missile based on V-2 technology, had a range of 1,200 kilometers (750 miles).

A Soviet copy of the German V-2 missile, called the R-1, was first launched in 1948.

Soviet R-1
60 k jpeg

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