Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Rocket Science Secrets

Nearly all of them are dead now. So I guess I can say a little about them and the adventures they described. I learned about them in a church, of all places. The church sponsored an autobiographical writer’s club and I was asked to join. Elderly ladies outnumbered us men, and their stories were no less interesting because they were women. However, it was stories about their families that caught my attention. Who could have expected to hear about the rocket science and its secrets that bound three of the ladies?

Over a period of years with this group I learned some of the secrets and even a tale of horror. For reasons I cannot tell, I was asked not to reveal their names. I understand why, but for the most part they are all gone now, and I can tell a little of what I learned.

The first story was one of horror and destitution. A German lady in the group, Heidi, revealed her story. She was raised in Transylvania, Romania as part of a German village with an almost ideal existence until WWII. Her uncle was a rocket scientist and professor whom I will call Hermann Schmidt. He was not a Nazi but his student Werner Von Braun, was. The little family managed to get through the War with deprivation, but they got through somehow. Then at the end, Russians came through, setting up a Communist government. The leaders of this government dispossessed Heidi’s family. The Russians took all German children of working age with them into Russia as virtual slaves to work on Russian farms. Heidi, a pretty girl then, worked a year or so in Russia and escaped first to East Germany and then to West Germany. Later, she went to Canada and ventured into the United States. Even now, Heidi is trying to locate the rest of her family in Europe.

The second story concerns a widow whose husband died just before I became a member of the writer’s group. A. L. (Bill) Belken is the name I have given him. He traveled as a civilian but had a high military status. Over a period of years I learned that he had worked directly for Presidents Roosevelt and Truman in Europe. I have seen personal commendations from those presidents for the work that Bill did, but I do not know what he did. The libraries of these presidents are silent on the subject. The National Archive says it has never heard of him.

All I could find from his widow was that he traveled extensively in Europe during and after WWII. Oh, there was one thing: when the P-38 plane was developed, it shook drastically. The two engines drove it were shaking the plane apart. Bill, with some kind of connection to Cal Tech, was asked to take a look at the problem. He suggested that the engineers reverse the rotation of one of the engines. That solved the problem and the P-38 was a great offensive weapon during the war.

I also learned that Bill was interested in JATO, or Jet Assisted Take Off of airplanes, which put him solidly in the rocket science camp. That was a short program, but rockets were just beginning to come into their own. Was Bill also involved in “Operation Paperclip?” It is quite possible. Very little is said about that operation, even today. But I can say that this operation, begun under President Truman, was one in which German rocket scientists and their laboratories were collected by Western Allies before the Russians could get to them. If the scientists were also Nazis, then their records were cleaned up. Perhaps little is known about Bill because of his involvement in that program. It was not a popular one.

Finally, there is another story. A wife in the writer’s group had a husband who was a simple MD and had been one during WWII. I will call him Dr. Mike Moriarity, because he has to have a name. Mike was part of America’s space program. The secret is that he was present at all Russian space program events during the 1960’s. He was a good friend of Yuri Gagarin and other Russian space people. He was an invited guest at each event. I personally have seen photos of Mike and Yuri together. Mike’s wife told us and later Mike agreed as he attended our meetings, that he would suddenly disappear from the U.S. No one knew where he was. Well, almost no one knew. Certainly not his family. But the Russians knew. Mike was with them.

When Mike would return from one of his clandestine trips, he was interviewed by not one but two U. S. intelligence agencies. The Russians had to know that he was being interviewed. And Mike was not allowed to tell one agency what he had told the other. That is, each agency had to ask its own questions; they did not share a common report or interview Mike at the same time.

Now, if the U. S. had a representative at Russian space flights, was there reciprocity such that the Russians had a representative to watch our space flights? Very likely.

Eventually Mike phased out of the Space program but all that he did was kept secret. Even today, although Mike and his wife are dead, almost no one talks about his exploits in the space program. Most don’t know. But there are good reasons for not using his real name even as I write this.

Looking at this group of elderly writers, no one could have detected the common thread among their stories. They certainly did not recognize the thread until I pointed it out to them.

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