Interview with Dr. Margrit von Braun

Dr. Margrit von Braun remembers her father, Dr. Werner von Braun, on what would be his 100th birthday.
Dr. Margrit von Braun remembers her father, Dr. Werner von Braun, on what would be his 100th birthday.

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - There we were, sitting in her living room. I felt like a college girlfriend who had just been invited to stay at a friend's home for Spring Break and was looking at old family photos to get all the "who's who" info before dinner.

"This is my Uncle Magnus. This is my Uncle Sigismund. This is our bassinet. This is us on vacation in Hawaii before it was a state," said Dr. Margrit von Braun.

Well, that's how I felt when I was standing with Dr. Margrit von Braun - the other, Dr. von Braun. She was talking to me about her family and her father, .Dr. Werner von Braun, the father of human space flight, the man she called "Daddy" who would turn 100 years old today.

Margrit and I really were in her old living room, just not in her childhood home. It's on display at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Margrit was giddy talking about the pictures on the wall. It was like going back in time. She was exuberant describing her father - the man who was bad at math and science as a kid, the accomplished musician, the man who taught her how to scuba dive, the visionary who was key in putting man on the moon.

"We knew our dad worked hard and liked to work and had a dream but when he was with us, that was all that mattered. He wasn't working, so I didn't really fell like it was a competition," she said when asked if she was ever jealous of how much time her dad spent on that Saturn V.

Margrit joked about his favorite recliner that she considered a toy. She talked about how he loved to eat spaghetti and Chinese food and spend Sunday afternoons grilling steaks and swimming in Lake Guntersville. She smiled remembering how she would roller skate down the halls in front of his office at the Marshall Space Flight Center because the floors were perfectly waxed. She remembered what a great father he was.

"When you were with him, you were the only person there. He took trips with each of us individually. He did things with all us individually and when I look back at that skill as a parent, that's really something."

Margrit said music was big in their lives. In fact, she said music was her dad's first love. He composed preludes and other short pieces for the piano and cello and almost became a professional musician - had his father not talked him out of it.

She said her father was bad at math and science as a child, but studied very hard to overcome his left-brained challenges because he was always enthralled with rockets and space.  For his Lutheran confirmation, his mother gave him a telescope.

By age seventeen, in his native Germany, he was building rockets. The rest is history - a professional history well documented. A personal history I wanted to explore.

His family, Margrit, her sister Iris, and brother Peter, rarely give interviews. So this opportunity may not come around again. No children entered the "family business," although Margrit says she came the closest.

She is an accomplished college professor and environmental engineer.  She says she was very much influenced by her father's work in space to focus her career here on earth.

The photos and video his "team" sent back to earth from space "inspired me to pursue a career to protect the earth," she said.

Their mother, Maria, is alive and well and 83 living in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Margrit von Braun said her father's challenges in getting support for his dream to explore the universe are not unlike the challenges America faces today when it comes to space exploration. She believes much of why her father got the money to go to the moon can be attributed to her dad's marketing abilities.

"I think really one of his bigger talents was being a salesman. He talked Congress into giving money for us to go to the moon. That was a tough job."

"I think if he were alive today, he would perhaps have some disappointment in that things have not advanced as quickly as he would have expected then too, but I think as a person who dreamed big, he would have thought about this as a temporary setback," she said when asked what he would think about the state of human space flight today.

As Margrit continued to look at the displays of personal belongings her family donated to the Museum, a group of observant space campers started to listen to our conversation. I introduced Dr. von Braun, told the students who she is and suddenly, a "star" was born. She commanded the room and the children were enthralled.

"You know what would make him really happy is to see you all here having fun, learning about space, learning about science and saying, 'Boy, when I go back to school, I'm going to study really hard because I've got a dream I want to pursue' - whatever your dream is," she told the children, sounding so much like her father.

It is a father's legacy and a daughter's delight to be here remembering a man who had a mission and a mantra to dream, and dream big.