Obituary: Georg von Tiesenhausen, Rocket pioneer who was backbone of US space programme

Dr Georg von Tiesenhausen, left, is hugged by his son, D. Georg von Tiesenhausen Jr, during a surprise birthday celebration in 2009. Picture: AP
Dr Georg von Tiesenhausen, left, is hugged by his son, D. Georg von Tiesenhausen Jr, during a surprise birthday celebration in 2009. Picture: AP
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Georg von Tiesenhausen, rocket pioneer. Born: 18 May 1914 in Riga, Latvia. Died: 3 June, 2018 in Huntsville, Alabama, aged 104.

Georg von Tiesenhausen, the last of the German ­rocket team that launched the US space programme, has died at his Alabama home. He was 104.

Von Tiesenhausen started his career in 1943 at the ­German Rocket Centre in Peenemünde, where he held the position of section chief. It was there that his career in rocket development began.

The famed scientist worked alongside Wernher von Braun during the Second World War in Germany. Several years after the war, von Tiesenhausen joined von Braun in Huntsville, Alabama. While there, he proved instrumental in forming the backbone of the US space programme, ­ultimately aiding in the launch of the first US satellite and the first US astronauts. While at the Marshall Space Flight ­Center, von Tiesenhausen designed and created the lunar rover that accompanied the last three Apollo missions in 1971 and 1972.

Von Tiesenhausen ­developed the reputation of Marshall’s resident dreamer, working tirelessly to achieve his goal of establishing a permanent lunar base and then one on Mars.

The rocketry pioneer was presented with a lifetime achievement award in 2011 by Neil Armstrong at the rocket centre in Huntsville. Von Tiesenhausen was fondly known as “Von T” by his colleagues, including Armstrong.

“He is and has been a person who imagines what can be, and he has the skills to ­convert that imagination into reality,” Armstrong said in 2011. The award acknowledged von Tiesenhausen as an innovative space designer and an engaged man who still worked with students.

In 1986, von Tiesenhausen retired after a career that spanned more than four ­decades. But he ­continued working with the centre, specifically with its space camps.

“He will be missed,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle told Al.com. “He’s the last of a ­generation that was always reaching for the stars.”