This question is more on the history side. What I want to know is what the differences between the USA and Germany before 1945 were that led to the States falling behind in space technology.

The United States could boast:

  • Robert H. Goddard, a pioneer of rocketry
  • Theodore von Kármán and his associates at Caltech
  • Huge industrial potential

More specifically, I'm interested in pre-war progress (the Manhattan project did divert a bit of resources during the war).

NOTE: I'm not asking for subjective opinions. Please back your argument with historical documents, memoirs, reports or other evidence.


closed as off-topic by gerrit, James Jenkins, Undo, Rory Alsop, Deer Hunter Aug 17 '13 at 12:29

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about space exploration within the scope defined in the help center." – gerrit, James Jenkins, Undo, Rory Alsop
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think this should be migrated to History. $\endgroup$ – gerrit Aug 15 '13 at 10:19
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @gerrit - historians poor rocket scientists make. (C) Yoda. $\endgroup$ – Deer Hunter Aug 15 '13 at 10:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The reasons for this may very well be political and not of scientific or technological nature. $\endgroup$ – gerrit Aug 15 '13 at 11:20
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @JonEricson : Done (meta.space.stackexchange.com/questions/270/…) :) $\endgroup$ – Deer Hunter Aug 15 '13 at 15:50
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Yoda has a point ;-) But in this special case, I am with @gerrit. From my point of view, there is just no technical answer here. One needs to dig deep in politics, economy and sociological aspects for understanding what happened. $\endgroup$ – s-m-e Aug 15 '13 at 15:50

The short answer is that Germany focused on rockets as part of their program of improving artillery. The focus being delivering munitions at long ranges. The initial work was done at Kummersdorf and had enough progress to keep on going resulting in the development of the A4 rocket.

In contrast Goddard and von Kármán worked on other types of projects, like assisted takeoff for aircraft, which had no clear path of development to a long range rocket. While Goddard tried to convince the US Army of the value of long range rockets ultimately the work they assigned him would not create any opportunity to develop that technology.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that sums the outcome nicely, but the Army could choose to concentrate on rockets. It didn't. ("It" is a misleading pronoun - somebody dumb did not do the right thing). $\endgroup$ – Deer Hunter Aug 15 '13 at 20:54
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ The V-2, while effective as a piece of propaganda, wasn't Germany's best possible use of the resources and manpower it used. It's quite possible that the US Army did the right thing by not wasting efforts on rockets. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Aug 21 '14 at 2:18
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The US, Russia and Germany all used short-range rocket artillery (Calliope, Katyusha, Nebelwerfer), so it wasn't like Germany was the only power playing with rocket-powered weapons, period. But Germany was the only player to attempt long-range ballistic rockets. But they could still only hit targets in western Europe. If the US were to build similar systems, it'd have to be done in the US, meaning they'd be able to hit... well, other parts of the US. Not much point in that. $\endgroup$ – Flambino Mar 28 '16 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ @RussellBorogove is correct. The V-2 cost about as much as a medium bomber, which was reusable with longer range, better accuracy, and bigger bomb payload. The real military use of such rockets came later with atomic weapons and/or orbital carrier rockets to put military satellites into orbit, either one of which would be asking a lot of vision from someone in the early 20th century (when Goddard worked). But note: a solid rocket V-2 would be much cheaper since it would have virtually no moving parts. It would make an interesting question as to why a solid fuel was not invented sooner. $\endgroup$ – DrZ214 Sep 12 '16 at 4:50
  • $\begingroup$ @DrZ214 : Solid fuel was invented long before the V-2, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocket. The liquid fuel V-2 needed a lot of moving parts for stabilization and attitude control. A solid fuel V-2 would have only some moving parts less, those used for pumping the fuel in the liquid fuel V-2, see de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aggregat_4#Steuerung $\endgroup$ – Uwe Sep 16 '17 at 21:49

Mostly because China was the first rocket power, a few hundred years before the USA existed.


Choosing not to invest in long range rocketry during the war was the correct decision. Due to their high cost it wasn't until long range rockets grew powerful enough to carry miniaturized nuclear weapons that they became a militarily useful asset to the US. Bombers were a much more cost effective way to deliver high explosives on a target. And while >99% of bomber crews couldn't place their bombs any closer than a mile of their target except via sheer luck; the same was true of 100% of long range rockets during that time period.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.