Von Braun was one of the most important rocket developers and champions of space exploration during the period between the 1930s and the 1970s, encouraged by reading the science fiction of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, and the science study of Oberth, "Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen" (By Rocket to Space) (1923). Beginning as a teenager, von Braun worked on space flight, becoming involved as early as 1929 in the German rocket society, Verein fur Raumschiffarht (VfR). As a means of furthering his desire to build large and capable rockets, in 1932 he went to work for the German army to develop ballistic missiles. He received a Ph.D. in physics on July 27, 1934.
Von Braun led the “rocket team” which developed the V-2 ballistic missile for the Nazis during World War II. The V-2's, used to bomb England with devastating effect, were manufactured at a forced labor factory called Mittelwerk.
Before the Allied capture of the V–2 rocket complex, von Braun arranged for the surrender of 500 of his top rocket scientists, along with plans and test vehicles, to the Americans. For fifteen years after World War II, von Braun worked with the U.S. Army in the development of ballistic missiles. As part of a military operation called Project Paperclip, he and his rocket team were rescued from defeated Germany and sent to America where they were installed at Fort Bliss, Texas. There they worked on rockets for the U.S. Army, launching them at White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico. In 1950 von Braun’s team moved to the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama, where they built the Army’s Jupiter ballistic missile.
In 1960, his rocket development center transferred from the Army to the newly established NASA and received a mandate to build the giant Saturn rockets. Accordingly, von Braun became director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle, the superbooster that would propel Americans to the Moon.
Von Braun also became one of the most prominent spokesmen of space exploration in the United States during the 1950s. In 1958, he played a key role in the launching of America's first satellite.
He became the director of NASA, the U.S. guided missile program and founded the National Space Institute. He became a naturalized United States citizen and received the National Medal of Science in 1975.
On June 16, 1977, Von Braun died in Alexandria, Virginia at the age of 65.
Von Braun observed:
"The laws of nature that enable us to fly to the Moon also enable us to destroy our home planet with the atom bomb. Science itself does not address the question whether we should use the power at our disposal for good or for evil. The guidelines of what we ought to do are furnished in the moral law of God."
Wernher von Braun continued:
"It is no longer enough that we pray that God may be with us on our side. We must learn to pray that we may be on God's side."
In the foreword to his Anthology on the Creation and Design exhibited in Nature, Wernher von Braun stated:
"Viewing the awesome reaches of space...should only confirm our belief in the certainty of its Creator. I find it difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe."