German rocket innovator celebrates 100th birthday - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

German rocket innovator celebrates 100th birthday

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Dieter Grau is 100 years old. Dieter Grau is 100 years old.
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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

It was the mid-1940s, post WWII, when the original German rocket team arrived on U.S. soil to strengthen our missile defense program and eventually start America's space program. They numbered more than 100 back then. Today, there are only three.

Dieter Grau is the oldest. He retired from NASA 40 years ago, but he is still working every day, carrying on the legacy.

"I was born to work," said Grau. "My world is work. Hard work."

And work he does. His office sits in the corner of his small apartment.

Mail comes in from around the world. Fan mail, if you will. And he responds to each one.

The letters are from young and old, people who want to know about the early days of the space race from a centenarian who was there and still remembers.

"I have worked with von Braun for 30 years," he said.

By trade, Grau was an electrical engineer who became Marshall Space Flight Center's first Director of Quality Assurance and Reliability. He had to know and understand the inner workings of this entire Saturn V, nose cone to aft.

That meant on July 20th, 1969, he gave Dr. Werner von Braun the final word on whether the rocket was ready for the moon.

"I told him I would always tell him the truth, whatever it is," Grau said. "I was out there that morning about 4am. I couldn't sleep, and at 8 or so, I was asked, 'Would you support a launch today?' and I said, 'Yes.'"

Yes, only after an intense review of some technical issues that day that some feared might have kept the ship on the ground.

Grau remembers the celebrations at the launch but says he cautioned everyone that the parties shouldn't begin until all those astronauts were back on the ground.

Grau said he's never cared for celebrations, but this day, he's making an exception for his 100th birthday.

With recognitions from all over, his own day from Huntsville's mayor, the honorary rank of 4 Star General in the U.S. Army, and a coin that flew on the shuttle to the International Space Station.

So many people are remembering this man and this milestone and his mark on space history.

Memories he may include when penning his next note.

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