Abe Silverstein The Man Who Put Men on the Moon

Fact Paper 45

© Samuel Kurinsky, all rights reserved

Man’s footprint on the surface of the moon. The Apollo program that led to a manned lunar landing was initiated and named by Abe Silverstein. The program was executed by Silverstein and the crew of talented engineers and scientists under his guidance during Silverstein’s tenure as head of NASA from 1961 to 1969. Photograph courtesy of NASA

A NASA Bulletin, June 1, 2001:


"Dr. Abe Silverstein, a leading figure in 20th century aerospace engineering and director of NASA Lewis Research Center from 1961 to 1969... died early today. He was 92."

The NASA Administrator at the time, Daniel S. Goldin, noted in the bulletin that "NASA has lost a true founding member... He was a man of vision and conviction. His effective leadership, both at Headquarters and at Lewis, directly contributed to the ultimate success of America's unmanned and human space programs, and his innovative, pioneering spirit lives on in the work we do today."

NASA Glenn Center Director Donald J. Campbell added that "NASA Glenn is an outstanding Center because of Abe's leadership when NASA was a growing organization. He was an exceptionally talented engineer whose pioneering work paved the way to many successes. He was by far the cornerstone for many of the accomplishments at Glenn."

The Distortion of History

Nonetheless, the name that commonly comes to mind about those landmark programs is not Abraham Silverstein but Wernher Von Braun. Von Braun directed the development of the rockets for Germany and was in charge of the V-2 rocket assault on Britain during World War II. During the last days of the war, in view of Germany's inevitable defeat and fearing capture by the Russians, von Braun and 126 rocketeers working under him at Peenemunde, surrendered to an American soldier.

On June 20, 1945, Cordell Hull approved the transfer of von Braun's German "Peenemunders" to the USA. Between 1950 and 1956 the Germans were incorporated into the Army's cadre of U. S. Rocketry experts in a facility called the Ordnance Guided Missile Center at Redstone Arsenal. They assisted in the development of what became known as the Redstone Rocket.

The Redstone Rocket was an improvement upon the V-2. The rocket science the Army Ballistic Missile Agency applied, however was scarcely innovative. It employed similar propellant mixtures and extended the range of the V-2 rockets used by Germany at Peenemunde.

The records show that the Chinese used solid-fuel rockets as far back as 1045 C.E. in their military campaigns. "The destructiveness and range of rockets soon made them popular in other Asian countries and throughout Europe. "

The German rockets, first launched in 1942 to hit a target 120 miles away, were a modern version of the ancient Chinese rockets. The Chinese use of solid fuels, was replaced by hydrogolic propellants, such as alcohol or petroleum derivatives such as kerosene, together with liquid oxygen. These propellants were alternatives to the Chinese explosive powder, but they all had their limitations.

The Shocker!

The world and especially the Americans were shocked when on October 4, 1957, Russia launched Sputnik into orbit around the world. The 187 pound artificial satellite, beeping its way through space, is said to have impelled the then Senator Johnson to exclaim, "Soon they will be dropping bombs on us from space like kids dropping rocks onto cars from freeway overpasses!"1 The bombs that worried Johnson were atom bombs, for Russia had already successfully exploded the horrendous weapons. The ghosts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had come around the world to haunt the American psyche.

"Never before had so small and so harmless an object created such consternation."2

The Army, the Navy, and the Air Force had long been developing missile programs to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of landing atom bombs on Russia. The new Russian threat shocked the administration and the armed forces from their bureaucratic infighting. The launching by Russia of a second satellite, Sputnik II, with an even heavier payload of 1100 pounds as well as a live dog named Laika, spurred the three branches of the armed forced to form a committee to resolve their differences. The launching of the 3000 pound Sputnik III stuck still another needle deep into U.S. pride.

The "Stewart Committee" chose the Army's Redstone as the booster stage and the Navy's Vanguard rocket as the second stage of a three-stage vehicle (the third used solid fuel) for carrying a satellite into space.

The first attempt to launch a puny, grapefruit- sized 3.25 pound object into space exploded before the eyes of the world on its launch pad. The sorry attempts were laughed at and the mission was dubbed "Kaputnik."

Frantically the program was continued. The Army Ballistic Missile Agency finally succeeded in launching the first U.S. satellite, Explorer I into orbit with a clumsy, four-stage rocket, including a Redstone version as a stage of the missile on January 31, 1958. The next four attempts to launch satellites failed. Then two successful launches of 22 pound instrumented satellites followed.

The Redstone-based system had, however, proved inadequate to match Russian payloads now being measured not in pounds but in tons. Then another shocker blasted its way into the headlines. "Soviet Air Force Major Yuri Alekseyevich Gugarin became the first human to travel in space. And it wasn't just a suborbital flight as planned for the first two flights of the Mercury astronauts... but one full REAL orbit"3

An alternative rocket system clearly had to be developed. A meeting was held in December 1959 to evaluate the use of the Redstone's "greatest challenge -Saturn. Although defense Department officials had approved the Saturn rocket and its Cape Canaveral launch site, wheels at Washington would grind another 18 months before the program was... finalized."4

The committee was referred to as the Silverstein Committee because it was chaired by Abe Silverstein, who was then the head of the Office of Space Flight Programs at NASA headquarters. Silverstein presented convincing arguments on the use of Saturn, a rocket with a powerful alternative engine employing a cryogenic system, composed of liquid-hydrogen and liquid-oxygen (LH2/LOX) propellants. The engine was proving far more capable of what even the improved version of the V-2 rocket, the Redstone, could achieve. It had been developed under the direction of Abraham Silverstein by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), a civilian organization. NACA was the predecessor of NASA, of which Silverstein became the Director. The engines employed on Saturn V's second and third stages, and on the second stage of Saturn 1B, burned Silverstein's LH2/LOX combination. The single engine was as powerful as the combination of the five F-1 engines burning a kerosene/liquid oxygen fuel used in its first stage!

Silverstein's recommendations were accepted over the indignant objections of von Braun, representing the army.

The engine was later incorporated into the "Centaur" rocket, which eventually became America's workhorse in space, and into the Apollo, the rocket responsible for manned space exploration. The success of the Saturn, Centaur and Apollo programs was made possible by testing with supersonic test equipment, designed by Silverstein and built under his supervision. It was named The Abe Silverstein Supersonic Wind Tunnel.

It is the height of irony that the development of the Saturn, Centaur, Apollo, and the space programs succeeded despite the fierce opposition of von Braun to Abe Silverstein's visionary engineering initiatives. Von Braun held out to the end for engines fueled as were the primitive German V-2 rockets, because he and the army team proved unable to adapt the more powerful, more efficient engines that had been developed under Silverstein. In the Silverstein Supersonic Wind Tunnel the LH2/LOX engine had proved to be decisively superior to any other system then being developed in any of the branches of the armed forces.

For eighteen months von Braun and the army bumbled along, unable to engineer a rocket incorporating the engine that Silverstein had created. "... Problems with NASA's contractors, General Dynamics and Pratt & Whitney, plagued the development of Centaur. However, the supervision of these contractors by the von Braun team had also played a role in its recent failures on the launch pad."5

Under von Braun's direction failure had followed failure. Finally, von Braun, unable to integrate the LH2/LOX engine into a viable rocket, recommended abandoning the Centaur program.

To salvage the investment of vast sums on the development of a space program, and faced with the humiliation of admitting an inability to meet Russia's challenge, NASA turned to Abe Silverstein to pull its chestnuts from the fire.

"In September 1962 Edgar Cartright, then Deputy Director of the Office of Space Science at NASA Headquarters... asked Silverstein to come to Headquarters where he brandished a letter that his boss, Homer D. Newell had received from Wernher von Barun. Von Braun thought that NASA should cancel the Centaur Program [my italics]. Von Braun apparently was unconvinced of the feasibility of liquid hydrogen as a fuel, despite his capitulation to Silverstein during the Saturn Evaluation ["Silverstein"] Committee meetings in December 1959."

Chagrined by von Braun's failures and embarrassed to forego the massive investment the government had made in the Centaur program, "Cartright asked Silverstein to take management of the Centaur program back to Lewis [NASA/Lewis - under Silverstein's charge]. The Centaur program, managed out of Lewis, went on to become a workhorse of the NASA stable of launch vehicles."6

Fortunately for the USA and for the world, von Braun's recommendation to dump the Centaur was over-ridden, his protests were ignored and Abe Silverstein's ideas prevailed. If Von Braun had won out, the Centaur program would have been dumped, the Apollo program would never have been launched, and the words "One step for Man" would never have been uttered!

Silverstein's intervention in the development of the Centaur program brought the manned space program to fruition. The subsequent Apollo rocket system was entirely the brainchild of Abe Silverstein. It was also Abe Silverstein's guidance that successfully paced both systems through their missions into space. The Apollo rocket and the success of both the Centaur and Apollo missions is entirely attributable to Abe's inspired inventiveness, foresight, guidance and leadership.

"On a 1991 PBS Documentary, former top NASA scientists from the Cleveland Lewis Center say that Silverstein was considered the father of Apollo. Silverstein was also responsible for the use of liquid hydrogen rocket engines that proved to be very successful and made it possible to go to the moon... After the Moon landing, all the top NASA engineers, scientists and astronauts, including the Apollo XI crew, signed a large photo of earth taken from the moon with a plaque attached acknowledging Silverstein as the father of the US space program and was presented to Silverstein."7

Why, then, is Von Braun still popularly designated the "Father of the USA Rocket Program?" How did this crassly false assumption become so authoritatively promulgated, widely disseminated and commonly believed? Why are sites on the internet regarding the space program whitewashing von Braun's failures? Why do almost all of them consistently omit the name of Abe Silverstein? Why do American schoolbooks follow suit in fostering a distorted history?

One might conjecture that the army was ashamed to admit its failures under von Braun and its humiliating deference to Silverstein's layman's initiatives after eighteen months of inept handling. One can surmise with reason that anti-Semitism played a significant role, both with von Braun and his team and in the military hierarchy. One can also imagine how red-faced were the bureaucrats, including the President of the United States, for touting the German "rocket scientists" and funding their failures.

The record is, after all, clear and unmistakable in NASA's own records, as will be seen below, yet much more remains to be revealed.

Scion of Jewish Immigrants

Abe Silverstein. Photo courtesy of NASA

Abe Silverstein was brought to the attention of the HHF by his nephew, Norman Winski. "Abe Silverstein's paternal grandfather," Winsky wrote to us, "was a Rabbi in Riga, Latvia in the 19th century, before immigrating to the US. This sense of scholarship permeated down through the generations to Abe's family."

"Abe was the only male, child number three, in a family of six siblings, growing up in Terre Haute, Indiana. Despite being very poor, his father was a not so successful men's clothing store merchant who spent much of his time studying in the back office [as] all his children went to college. Only my mother, Nell, child number two, who quit school to help support the family, did not get a college degree, during a time when few women went to college."

"Of course, Abe was always very smart. One day he came home from high school and said, "Look Mama, I got a 99 on my test!" Mama replied, "so where's the other point?" This obsession with perfection carried over to Abe's career in aviation as told by his colleagues, sometimes to their consternation, and served the country well."

"Abe Silverstein was the founder of the only Jewish Reform Temple on the west side of Cleveland and organized the Cleveland organization to help Soviet Jewry. He was not only a great engineer-scientist, he was also a great humanitarian."

Abe Silverstein's Pioneering Initiatives

Dr. Abraham Silverstein was trained in mechanical engineering at the Rose Technical Institute. He began his career as an aerodynamicist at the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory (later: Langley Research Center) in Hampton, Virginia, in 1929. There he participated in the design of the Full-Scale Wind Tunnel, and was soon placed in charge of the project. Silverstein directed the pioneering aerodynamic research that underlay the near supersonic performance of most of the combat aircraft of World War II.

The Abe Silverstein Supersonic Wind Tunnel, designed to test supersonic components and engines. The facility is also ideally suited for launch vehicle tests and other fuel burning applications. Rendering courtesy of NASA Glenn Research Center

NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, was the predecessor of NASA. NACA was based at the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory. Its success is attributable to the initiatives taken under Abe Silverstein's inspired guidance

Silverstein was assigned to work on the design of the Altitude Wind Tunnel to be built in Cleveland. Silverstein transferred to Cleveland. "He brought with him a group of "Young Turks... This group was led by Lewis's dynamic associate director, Abe Silverstein, and included, among others, such promising young men as George Low, who before many years would be heading NASA's "Manned Lunar Task Force."8 In 1943 the Wind Tunnel was built in Cleveland. Silverstein became Chief of the Engine Installation and then head of the Wind Tunnel's research division. There he performed new research on the early turbojet aircraft engines, followed by other pioneering research on the large-scale ramjet engines.

In 1944 Abe Silverstein advocated the construction of a supersonic wind tunnel. As part of the Unitary Plan Act, passed by Congress in 1949 Abe Silverstein was responsible for the conception, design, and construction of the first "large supersonic wind tunnel dedicated to propulsion system integration and testing of full-scale jet and rocket engines... The Abe Silverstein Supersonic Wind Tunnel is capable of creating an authentic free-stream airflow for aerodynamic and fuel-burning test hardware at speeds from Mach 2.0 to 3.5, very low speeds from 0 to Mach 0.4, and at varying altitudes up to 250,000 feet. Throughout history, the tunnel has made valuable contributions to launch-vehicle and vehicle-focused research programs including Apollo, Mariner, Space Shuttle, the National Aerospace Plane, the Joint Strike Fighter, and numerous fundamental supersonic propulsion technology research programs."10

"The Abe Silverstein Supersonic Wind Tunnel was designed to test supersonic propulsion components such as inlets, nozzles, and engines. The facility is ideally suited for launch vehicle tests and other fuel burning applications... It can operate either as a closed loop system (aerodynamic cycle) or open-loop system (propulsion cycle)."9

The tunnel was completed after World War II in 1949. Silverstein was placed in charge of all research at the Lewis Research Center in 1949. "Silverstein recognized the importance of rocketry research, which had been going on at NASA Lewis since 1945 under cover as 'High Pressure Combustion' to avoid the appearance of being 'Buck Rogers types.' He officially established the Rocket Research Branch despite the reluctance of the conservative NACA headquarters to pursue such radical work".

"The group built engines for a variety of propellants and by the late 1950's had settled in on liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX) as the best combination."

In contrast with the highly pollutant byproducts of the combustion of petroleum-derived fuels employed previously as a rocket propellant, oxygen and hydrogen burn pollutant free, producing only water vapor on combustion.

"Despite the skepticism of the bureaucratic directors of NACA, and their reticence to allow such a radical visionary initiative, Silverstein's persistence prevailed, and the engineers under his direction modified a B-57's engine and successfully flight tested it with liquid hydrogen."11

The 10 foot by 10 foot by 40 foot Supersonic Wind Tunnel is still operational at the John H. Glenn Research Center [successor to the NASA Lewis Research Center]. That facility became the main tool for the development of supersonic aircraft.

When NASA was formed in 1958, Dr. Silverstein became the head of NASA's Office of Space Flight Programs at headquarters. "He directed those NASA programs concerned with mission planning, spacecraft design and development, and in-flight research and operation."12 "He was responsible for the Mercury Program and for all unmanned satellite programs for the first three years of the agency. He named the Apollo program and, together with George Low, laid the groundwork for that program's success in landing a man on the Moon."13

"The new NASA needed a new space flight center. Silverstein chose the site and proposed the name for the new Goddard Space Flight Center. He negotiated with the Navy to transfer the Vanguard team from the Naval Research Laboratory to form the nucleus of the new center."14

In 1959 a committee was formed of representatives of NASA, the various military branches, and the Department of Defense. It was officially termed the "Saturn Vehicle Evaluation Committee," but, as was noted above, inasmuch as it had been formed and chaired by Abe Silverstein, it is commonly referred to as "The Silverstein Committee."

Wernher von Braun represented the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in the committee. NASA was represented by Silverstein.

"NASA had inherited an LH2 development program as a result of NACA work carried out at Lewis Research Center throughout the 1950's; the work culminated in the successful test of a 89,000 newton (20,000 pound) thrust LH2 engine and propellant injector in the late 1950's."15

Silverstein's's plan was to employ this high-energy stage, named Centaur, as an operative stage in the Atlas or Titan rockets. The Lewis group in the committee, led by Abe Silverstein, made their case for the use of the LH2/LOX engines. The test results obtained in the Abe Silverstein Supersonic Wind Tunnel were presented, convincing evidence of the superiority of the cryogenic fuel system over any system that had heretofore been employed. Silverstein pushed hard for LH2 engines to be used immediately in Saturn's upper stages against the stubborn opposition of von Braun and other army representatives. "Von Braun in particular expressed doubts about LH2 even though the Saturn-Atlas combination had the Centaur's LH2 system in the final Atlas second stage... Using his background in the work previously done at Lewis, Silverstein argued with all the persuasive powers at his command. It was just not logical, Silverstein emphasized, to develop a series of vehicles over a 10-year period and rely on the limited payload capability of conventionally fueled boosters with liquid oxygen and kerosene-based propellants."16

Centaur rocket being launched. While the development of the Centaur was in the army’s hands with von Braun directing the research, failure after failure led von Braun to recommend the abandonment of its development. NASA turned over the project to Abe Silverstein and his team and phenomenal success followed, making Centaur known as “America’s Workhorse in Space.” Photo courtesy of NASA

Silverstein's recommendations prevailed, but the program was placed under the Army's (and von Braun's) control. The new administrator, James E. Webb, offered Abe Silverstein the management of the program under the new, centralized organization. "Then Vice President Lyndon Johnson became concerned about getting funding through congress for the space program. He went to Webb and said, we need to do something to capture and inspire the public's imagination so we can get funding for the space program through congress. Webb then went to the Director of Space Flight Operations, Dr. Abe Silverstein and said, 'the White House is concerned, we need to do something to capture and inspire the public's imagination to get funding through congress. What can you guys do?'"

Many had previously conjectured that a lunar landing and exploration was a possibility, including von Braun. But it was Silverstein that offered that goal as a real, reachable, and practical initiative. "Silverstein and a colleague thought for a moment and in typical engineer style quiet understatement said, 'Well, we can go to the Moon!' Webb, 'OK! Fine! How long will it take?' After a minute of a few calculations, again in understated tone, 'Oh, we can do it by the end of the decade." Webb replied 'OK. Fine. Write it up and send it to me.'"

"So, during their lunch hour, on an old typewriter, they typed the proposal and sent it to Webb who relayed it to the White House. Four days later, President Kennedy appeared on television to say, "...and by the end of the decade we shall go to the Moon!"17

But trouble was brewing. Kennedy's goal in appointing Webb as NASA Administrator was to reorganize NASA with a more vertical organizational structure. Under the reorganization, von Braun would become subordinate to Silverstein. It was a bitter pill for von Braun (and his army supporters) to swallow. "Von Braun protested that he would not have his [!] center run by a 'colony of artists' - his characterization of the NACA engineers associated with Silverstein in the Office of Space Flight Programs."18

"Rather than be in a situation that would have caused considerable tension and disruption within NASA, Silverstein decided to transfer himself back to Cleveland, Webb tried to talk him out of this, saying, 'I never heard of anyone giving himself a demotion. We are building a new center in Houston. Would you like to head that?' Silverstein answered, 'No, thank you. I will go back to Cleveland to the people I know. However, we have a good man in Gilruth, who should get the Houston job.' Webb then asked, 'Is there anything you want before you go?' And Silverstein said, 'Yes, I would like to name the new NASA center in Maryland after Robert Goddard.''

"So, Gilruth became famous as the head of the Johnson Space Center, Houston, and the NASA Center in Maryland is now known as the Goddard Space Center."19 It was characteristic of Abe Silverstein, head of what von Braun sneeringly considered the "artist contingent of the space program," that he wanted nothing to do with the power struggles of the Washington bureaucracy, dominated as they were by army and the political interests that were enamored with and favored the "German contingent."

LEM, the capsule which landed men on the moon and returned them to earth. The Apollo program that made this feat possible was developed and consummated under Abe Silverstein’s direction within the decade, just as Silverstein had promised in 1961 to then Vice-President Johnson. President Kennedy’s boast, aired to the world that such would be the case, was fulfilled by Silverstein. photo courtesy of NASA

In 1961, Silverstein returned to Lewis as Director. "Leaving the power struggles of Washington behind, he would still make contributions to the launch vehicle program. The LH2-fueled Centaur was then transferred to Marshall Space Flight Center as NASA consolidated the civil space program."

With Silverstein absent at headquarters, von Braun made a mess of the Centaur program. The Centaur Program suffered failure after dismal failure with the army's contractors General Dynamics and Pratt and Whitney, both of which were operating under Wernher von Braun's supervision. "On May 8, 1962, the first Centaur rose, a perfect launch for the first 54 seconds. Then, the Centaur upper stage exploded. DoD [The Department of Defense] officials became convinced that operational Centaurs would not be available until 1966."20

As noted in the letter cited above, the failures led von Braun to recommend that NASA cancel the Centaur Program. It was then that the Deputy Director of the Office of Space Sciences at NASA headquarters called in Silverstein, and presented him with von Braun's letter.

It was a plea for help. It was a plea for Abe Silverstein and his team to intervene and salvage the Centaur Program, and they did so brilliantly.

"Dr. Abe Silverstein stepped forward and convinced the hard-pressed NASA organization that his Lewis Research Center could de-bug and manage the problem-ridden Centaur. Full responsibility was assigned to Lewis under Dr. Silverstein, its second director."

"Engineers at Lewis were familiar with the Centaur's liquid-hydrogen/liquid-oxygen cryogenic fuels. ... Long before NASA was created, Lewis conducted pioneering work on the high-energy liquid propellants for rockets. This included, in the late 1940's, accumulating valuable test data that became the technical base for the space age. Successful tests produced the ramjet and rocket technology that were later to carry men and machines at incredible speeds through the atmosphere and beyond."

"Given a go-ahead, Lewis engineers perfected the workhorse booster, carrying out a complex research and development program to assure its reliability. To make certain of Centaur's success, the Lewis team also perfected and improved the Atlas booster which would carry it off the pad. Special facilities were set up for ground testing both rockets at Lewis' Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio."

"Finally, on November 27, 1963, it happened. NASA had its first successful launch of the first Atlas/Centaur. No payload was carried, but the powerful rocket scored a significant milestone: first in-flight burn of a liquid-hydrogen/liquid-oxygen engine. Major successes followed rapidly."21

"Dr. Silverstein demonstrated that hydrogen was light, powerful and safe enough to use for rocket propulsion, thus getting the nation's space program off the ground." Abe Silverstein's vision and persistence were vindicated "Centaur was used to send the Surveyor spacecraft to the Moon, Viking to Mars, Pioneer to Jupiter and Saturn, Voyager to Uranus and Neptune, as well as scores of other launches."22

It was long after such successful launches had been consummated, and when denial was impossible, that von Braun was ultimately obliged to grudgingly acknowledge that "Abe was on solid ground when he succeeded in persuading the committee to swallow its scruples about the risks of the new fuel." It should be noted that von Braun put the onus upon the committee, refusing to face the fact that he was the instigator and promulgator of the struggle against Abe Silverman's visionary and ultimately successful initiatives.

Wernher von Braun being carried aloft in Huntsville, Alabama in celebration of the moon-landing of Apollo 11. Von Braun unabashedly took credit for the mission despite the fact that the space program had been placed under Abe Silverstein’s direction after von Braun’s successive failures. Von Braun had recommended cancelling the very program that made man’s space flight possible. Abe Silverstein was placed in charge of NASA from 1961 to 1969, the critical years of the development of the manned Space program.

Von Braun faded into the background of the space program picture. Silverstein remained as head of NASA from 1961 until 1969. During his tenure success followed success until Kennedy's brazen boast was fulfilled.

The race to the moon had been spurred to a new frenzy in January, 1959, when the Russian Lunar 1, atop a blazing pillar of fire, rocketed into an orbit around the sun. It trailed a cloud of sodium gas, released to permit astronomers to track the glowing orange trail through space. Then, in September 1959, Luna 2 was launched, and it landed on the moon. The pressure for the salvage of the prestige of the United States became a matter of national pride.

Silverstein created and then directed efforts leading to the Mercury space flights. The United States achieved its first spectacular success in May, 1961, when Alan Shepherd rode the first Mercury capsule into space. Under Abe Silverstein's supervision, a series of six more successful Mercury manned missions were accomplished, on the first of which John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. Each of these missions were designed to resolve conditions necessary to place a man on the moon.

The American Ranger 7 crashed onto the surface of the moon in July, 1964, duplicating the Russian feat five years earlier. Two subsequent landings were likewise successfully accomplished. The gap between the Soviet and American achievements had begun to narrow.

In an accelerated program, Project Gemini was launched and five successive unmanned Lunar Orbiter missions were successfully and spectacularly completed within the short span of 1966 and 1967. The moon was mapped on both its light and dark sides, heavier lift rocketry were tested, satellite intercept procedures were tested, docking procedures between two spacecraft were developed, and Edwin White performed America's first "Walk in Space."

That was not all. While the mercury and Gemini programs were being hotly pursued, Silverstein's creation of a new and immensely powerful rocket had been completed. Silverstein named it Apollo.

A series of vigorous tests of Apollo's engine at the Abe Silverstein Supersonic Wind Tunnel proved that Apollo was ready to put a man on the moon. The promise that Silverstein had made to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade was right on schedule. Created by the genius and under the stewardship of Abe Silverstein, Apollo was ready to take America into the history books. The USA was finally poised not only to overtake but to surpass the Russians. The prowess of the USA, and the audacious prediction that Kennedy had broadcast to the world was about to be vindicated.

"No country had ever undertaken a space exploration effort of the magnitude of the Apollo program. Every item was a quantum leap ahead in size, power, cost, manpower, weight, and management."

"The first manned mission of the program was Apollo 7 in October, 1968."23

Three astronauts were on board on each of the four subsequent test flights. The missions were choreographed carefully but expeditiously to test each aspect of a manned lunar exploration. They performed their missions flawlessly. Apollo 8 orbited the astronauts around the moon. Apollo 9 was launched in March of 1969 with a lunar lander on board. A space walk between the command and the lunar modules was consummated without a hitch. Apollo 10, launched in May 1969 was a complete dress rehearsal of a lunar landing mission. Docking and undocking procedures were performed. The only thing the mission did not do was to actually land on the moon.

On July 16, 1969 Apollo 11 alighted lightly on the moon's surface, and made history.

Silverstein had brilliantly accomplished as a civilian what the combined efforts of the Air Force, the Navy, and the Army ,together with the von Braun corps of German rocketeers, had failed to achieve.

Abe Silverstein was a modest, retiring man. He had never sought, nor did he encourage publicity, satisfied to remain known and admired by his colleagues and associates within NASA. Silverstein was content to let the record speak for itself.

Von Braun, in contrast, took advantage of the mystique around the German Peenemunders. He became a favorite of the sensational press. Initially he launched a self- aggrandizement spin operation to offset his role in the war by the media by tales about his views on rocketry as peaceful instruments for the advancement of mankind's knowledge of the universe. Implied in this publicity was the impression that his basic interest was in advancing technology and not in assisting Germany's war effort. The more sedate media was as eager to cash in on his reputation. In 1952, for example, von Braun published an article in Colliers on his concept of a space station.

Saturn V with launch umbilical tower. NASA under Abe Silverstein was charged with the further development of the Saturn rocket system to send heavy payloads into earth orbit and to land spacecraft on the moon. President Kennedy’s commitment to send two astronauts to the moon by the end of the decade was fulfilled by Abe Silverstein and the crew under his direction. Photo courtesy of NASA

Von Braun worked with Disney studios as a technical director for three Space Exploration television films, and continued to work with Disney over the years. It was von Braun's picture that appeared on the front page in newspapers throughout the USA with each advance in the space program. It was von Braun being carried aloft on the shoulders of a crowd in front of the Madison County Courthouse in Alabama that appeared in newspapers after the celebration of the spectacular success of the Apollo 11 mission.

Thus, not only the improvement of the Redstone rockets but every subsequent stage of the development of America's Space Program was attributed publically to von Braun while Abe Silverstein remained modestly in the background. The von Braun myth became integral to the established history of the program.

Abe Silverstein's name rarely appears in all this publicity. It is entirely absent from many history books, especially from those being studied by schoolchildren .

Academia did take note on one occasion of Abe Silverstein's contributions to science, technology and credited him for America's success in space exploration.

"In 1997, Silverstein received the prestigious Guggenheim Medal for his 'technical contribution and visionary leadership in advancing technology of aircraft and propulsion performance, and foresight in establishing the Mercury and Gemini manned space flight activities.'"24

The Guggenheim medal had been previously awarded only to Orville Wright, William Boeing, Donald Douglas, James Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, James McDonnell Jr., and Clarence "Kelly Johnson." It is, perhaps, of some significance that von Braun's name is conspicuously absent from Guggenheim's illustrious roster of the pioneers of air and space technology.

On the occasion of the award, NASA issued News Release 97-54. After reviewing Silverstein's massive contributions to NASA and the space program, it concludes with a statement by the then NASA/Lewis Director Donald Campbell:

"[NASA] Lewis is an outstanding center because of the contributions made by many dedicated researchers and leaders who have gone before us. Dr. Silverstein stands head and shoulders above all the others in terms of contributions in the areas of aeronautics and space. It is this reason that he is richly deserving of the award."



  1. Here Comes Sputnik
  2. Daniel J. Boorstein, The Americans: The Democratic Experience
  3. Here Comes Sputnik! Idem.
  4. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASA) report: NASA Artifacts, Saturn V Model.
  5. Virginia P. Dawson, Engines and Innovation, NASA SP-4306, 1991, pp 188-189
  6. Abe Silverstein - ctd.grc.nasa.gov/history/abe/html.
  7. Norman Winsky, nephew of Abe Silverstein, in an e-mail to the HHF.
  8. SP-4308 Spaceflight Revolution, note 12, Nasa.gov/SP-4308/notes.htm
  9. Abe Silverstein Supersonic Wind Tunnel
  10. Research Facilities at NASA Glenn Research Center,
  11. Abe Silverstein, ctd.grc.nasa.gov/history/abe.htm.
  12. NASA John H. Glenn Research Center, Abe Silverstein, Biographical Data.
  13. Abe Silverstein, ctd.grc.nasa.gov/history/abe.htm.
  14. Abe Silverstein, ctd.grc.nasa.gov/history/abe.htm.
  15. Roger E. Bilstein, Stages to Saturn, NASA SP-4206, 1980, 44-45.
  16. Bilstein, Idem
  17. Winsky, Idem.
  18. Virginia P. Dawson, Engines and Innovation, NASA SP-4306, 1991, 169.
  19. Winsky, Idem.
  20. Centaur: America's Workhorse in Space.
  21. Centaur, America's Workhorse in Space, idem.
  22. Abe Silverstein - ctd.grc.nasa.gov/history/abe/html.
  23. www.historicwings.com/features99/apollo.
  24. Dr. Abe Silverstein, Early Architect of the Apollo Landing Dies. NASA news@hg.nasa.gov