Rocket Boys

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Wernher von Braun Character Analysis

The legendary German rocket scientist, and an idol of Homer’s. Wernher von Braun played an important role in the military offensive of Hitler’s Third Reich, designing the deadly V-2 rockets, which did tremendous damage to London during the 1940s. Nevertheless, von Braun became a loyal supporter of the United States after the fall of the Third Reich. He used his brilliance to build sophisticated rockets for the American military and NASA, and was arguably the single most important figure involved in putting a man on the moon. Despite his legacy as a brilliant scientist, von Braun remains a controversial figure, since his brilliance indisputably aided the Nazi war effort. This controversy shows up at several points in Rocket Boys, making Homer question his worshipful feelings for von Braun.

Wernher von Braun Quotes in Rocket Boys

The Rocket Boys quotes below are all either spoken by Wernher von Braun or refer to Wernher von Braun . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dell edition of Rocket Boys published in 2000.
Chapter 2 Quotes

The men crossed the tracks and I saw the glint of their lunch buckets in the tipple light, and I came slowly back to reality. They weren’t explorers on the moon, just Coalwood miners going to work. And I wasn’t on von Braun’s team. I was a boy in Coalwood, West Virginia. All of a sudden, that wasn’t good enough.

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Wernher von Braun
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

Inspired by the launch of Sputnik, Homer Jr. wants to build rockets that can soar high into space, eclipsing Sputnik. But Homer's ambitions go much deeper than the desire to design impressive rockets. Suddenly, Homer sees a new path for himself in life—a path that will take him out of the town of Coalwood to engineer rockets for Dr. Werner von Braun, the most famous rocket scientist in the world. (In real life, von Braun was a former Nazi scientist who, due to his vast intelligence and talent, was recruited by the United States to build American weapons.)

Homer Jr. has always had vague ambitions to explore the world and get out of Coalwood. But it's not until the beginning of the Space Race that he finds a suitable plan to focus his ambitions. Rockets represent a way for Homer to escape a life spent mining coal in West Virginia: he thinks that if he builds impressive rockets he'll be able to escape his childhood home forever.

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Chapter 12 Quotes

“Mining’s in your blood, little man,” he shrugged. “I guess you’ll figure that out, sooner or later.”
“I still want to work for Dr. von Braun.”
He nodded. “We’ll see.”

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Homer Hickam Sr. (speaker), Wernher von Braun
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

In this confrontation between Homer Sr. and Homer Jr., a lot is revealed about both characters. Homer Jr. makes it very clear that he has lofty ambitions of working for NASA, under the leadership of Werner von Braun. Indeed, von Braun is something of an alternate "father figure" for Homer Jr.—a role model. Homer Jr.'s love for von Braun suggests that he sees something insufficient in his father's personality and career choice: he wants to be something more than a mining engineer, and for this reason he looks beyond Coalwood for his heroes.

Homer Sr.'s behavior in this scene is equally revealing. He's an engineer, meaning that he can't entirely dislike what his son is doing with rockets. Homer Jr.'s rocket launches are a tribute to his father's own talents as an engineer (one could say that engineering, not mining, is in his blood). So it's not that Homer Sr. doesn't want his son to become a NASA engineer; instead, he just doesn't think this is a realistic dream. Homer Sr. wants his son to have a good, steady job that will enable him to raise a family. It's for this reason that he wants his son to abandon rocket science for the time being and focus on becoming a mining employee.

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Wernher von Braun Character Timeline in Rocket Boys

The timeline below shows where the character Wernher von Braun appears in Rocket Boys. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: Sputnik
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
...about Sputnik. Homer is fascinated by these articles—he reads about the great German rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun , who’s working for the United States to build American satellites. He also reads that... (full context)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...a dog named Laika. Soon after, Homer reads an article in Life Magazine about how Wernher von Braun built rockets when he was a child. Inspired, Homer decides to launch a rocket of... (full context)
Chapter 5: Quentin
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...invented them, and they were used in various 19th century wars. Noted rocket scientists include Wernher von Braun and Robert Goddard. The fundamental principle of the rocket is Newton’s Third Law: for every... (full context)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...eager to hear about Homer’s rockets. She believes him when he says he’ll work with Wernher von Braun one day, and she explains that she wants to be a teacher when she grows... (full context)
Chapter 6: Mr. Bykovski
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
It’s January 31, 1958, and Wernher von Braun is launching the Explorer-1 satellite. The launch is a great success—a fact that invigorates Homer,... (full context)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...optimistic—he argues that winning this competition is the ideal way to “get on down” to Wernher von Braun . Homer points out that he and Quentin would be competing against Welch High School—a... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...the Store sold it. At the store, Junior brings up Cape Canaveral, the area where Wernher von Braun researches rockets. Junior, who is black, mentions that the beaches are segregated in Florida. Homer... (full context)
Chapter 8: Construction of the Cape
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
In Cape Canaveral, Homer says, von Braun has launched a series of successful satellites. The Americans and Soviets are competing to launch... (full context)
Chapter 11: Rocket Candy: Auks XII-XIII
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
...has no choice but to tell the truth: he wants to be an engineer for von Braun instead. Homer Sr. is visibly disappointed, and he adds that Mr. Bykovski would be disappointed... (full context)
Chapter 12: The Machinists: Auks XIV-XV
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
...himself to rocket science again. Nevertheless, he can’t shake the comment Homer Sr. made about von Braun , Mr. Bykovski, and the Jews. (full context)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
...and he greets Homer cheerfully. Homer reluctantly brings up why he’s come, and asks about von Braun and the Jews. Mr. Bykovski takes his time responding to this, choosing his words carefully.... (full context)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...him to make them more professional. Homer insists that he still wants to work for von Braun in Cape Canaveral—Homer Sr. replies, “we’ll see,” but seems pleasantly amused by his son’s enthusiasm. (full context)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
It is Christmas, 1958. Elsie gives Homer a present: an autographed photograph of his hero, Dr. von Braun . In his brief note, von Braun congratulates Homer for his success with rockets, encourages... (full context)
Chapter 25: The National Science Fair
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...competitors’ designs. One of the judges, a middle-aged, German-accented man, tells Homer that he’s on von Braun ’s research team. The man asks Homer difficult questions about propulsion, and Homer answer them... (full context)
Chapter 26: All Systems Go: Auks XXVI-XXXI (June 4, 1960)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
...launch of Auk XXXI, the final and largest rocket. Inside is the same nozzle that Dr. von Braun praised at the science fair. Just as Homer is about to launch the rocket, he... (full context)
Epilogue
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...by his dreams of lunar colonization and global freedom, fought in Vietnam. He never met Dr. von Braun , who died of cancer in 1977. In 1981, Homer finally became a NASA engineer... (full context)