Peenemünde, a name with a special place in German history
On 6 June 2010, the President of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, David Williams, and the previous NASA administrator, Mike Griffin, visited Rostock. They came to discuss possible forms of collaboration with the University of Rostock and DLR, and also to visit Peenemünde. In the company of Henry Tesch, the Science Minister of the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania) and the Rector of the University of Rostock, Wolfgang Schareck, we visited Peenemünde and the Historical-Technical Museum located there.
'Museum visit' may not, at first hearing, sound all that exciting, and not perhaps something worth reporting on – but things are very different at Peenemünde, given its very special role in history. The exhibits chosen by the museum to showcase technological accomplishments on the one hand and the horrors of forced labour, inhumane conditions, war objectives and gruesome acts on the other, demonstrate just how important to technology a willingness to look back reflectively really can be.
It is certainly fascinating to learn, in a short lecture given by Mike Griffin, how Wernher von Braun's group resolved the difficult topic of unstable combustion conditions when using liquid propellants. At the same time as this, however, visitors can also witness the destruction caused by the wartime deployment of the V1 and V2 rockets, as well as the appalling living conditions of the people subjected to forced labour, the concentration camp inmates and POWs who were involved in their manufacture. In my view, the museum did an excellent job of bridging the gulf between these various aspects of this topic. Technological accomplishments, wartime events and the inextricable link between the two are demonstrated here most impressively. For myself personally, this impression was one reinforced by the presence of our American friends and by the discussions during the museum visit about the work of Wernher von Braun.
As well as the immediate and deep impressions made by the museum and its associated warning messages, seeing Mike Griffin again was a great pleasure and also an opportunity to discuss various space-related topics. Furthermore, following the visit to Peenemünde, we were invited to a barbeque in the garden of Udo Michalik, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture for the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. This was an opportunity to talk with the two university presidents Wolfgang Schareck and David Williams, Mike Griffin and other representatives of the state about the governance of large establishments, and to exchange experiences and opinions about the right balance to strike between internal and external management control and communication.
The summary relating to questions about management structures and responsibilities could not have been expressed more succinctly and clearly. A personal link needs to exist between decision-making power and associated responsibility. In turn, this correlation must render efficient and effective action possible in the advancement of the matter at hand, as an outcome of interaction between the people in the establishment. This interaction must be based on clearly defined responsibilities within the management team and with due account taken of externally stipulated goals and objectives – and not merely of detailed specifications.
Translated from the German original.
Top image: The Historical-Technical Museum (HTM) at Peenemünde. Credit: HTM.
Bottom image: Reconstruction of a Type A4 rocket (Assembly 4, also known as the V2) on a 1:1 scale, exhibited in the Historical-Technical Museum (HTM) at Peenemünde. Credit: AElfwine/Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 3.0.