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Destruction and discovery

Keeper of Technology and Engineering David Rooney takes a closer look at the V2 engine.

The V2 rocket engine was the first ballistic missile, built by the Nazis to fire missiles at London, but that wasn’t the only part it had to play in history.

V2 Rocket

It could travel at three times the speed of sound and was the first man-made object that had the capability to reach space.

On the 16 July, 1969 the Apollo 11 mission allowed the first men to walk on the moon. The Saturn V rockets which took up each of the Apollo craft used six J2 engines – developed from the V2 by some of the designers that worked on the V2.

Apollo 10
Apollo 10

So how did Wernher von Braun, the designer of a powerful German weapon then design the engine that helped America land on the moon?

As World War II was ending, Von Braun surrendered to American troops. Von Braun and his team were moved to Fort Bliss, Texas, under the top secret Operation Paperclip.

The V2 was chosen as one of our centenary icons, because it launched us into space. But as the power behind the first long-range missiles, it also threatened to destroy our world. An engine of war and discovery, these rockets have a legacy that still looms over us today. You can see them both in our Exploring Space gallery.