Did German-born rocket engineer Wernher von Braun found the National Aeronautics and Space Administration? No, that's not true: The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on July 29, 1958, led to the formation of NASA. It was not the work of a single person or of von Braun, who did not work for NASA at that time.
When NASA was created in 1958, von Braun was working as director of Development Operations of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency at the U.S. Army's Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, according to a declassified 1961 Federal Bureau of Investigation background check. On July 1, 1960, the Army's space program was transferred to the almost two-year-old civilian space agency NASA, and von Braun became the first director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, which oversaw its development of rockets powerful enough for space launches, NASA and U.S. Army biographies of von Braun report. That does not make him, however, the founder of NASA.
⚠️😳NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH
This is how the post appeared at the time of the publication of this fact check:
(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Thu Dec 28 16:49:58 2023 UTC)
The text captioning in the first 0:30 seconds of the video reads:
EX-HIGH SATANIST AND RAPPER BAMBOO EXPLAIN TRUTH ABOUT NASA
the founder of NASA which is their deceptive organisation that collects billions of dollars from taxpayers every year was a man by the name of Werner von Braun
now this Werner von Brauner who's a German - he's a German engineer who played a prominent role in all aspects of rocketry and space exploration first in Germany and after World War 2 the United States
The video also bears a blue logo with the letters LIS. Lead Stories traced this to the YouTube channel Life Is Spiritual. The two-minute, thirteen-seconds-long video from TikTok that was reposted on Instagram is a clip taken from a video first posted on the LIS YouTube channel on September 22, 2023. The relevant clip can be found at the 1:55:55 mark.
The LIS website describes the function of the Kenya-based Life Is Spiritual this way:
Life Is Spiritual Ministries (LIS) is a non denominational christian discipleship ministry with a goal to see the gospel of the Kingdom of God spread to the entire world. This ministry was founded by Apostle Timsimon "Bamboo" Kimani and Erica Kimani
The two people in the video posted on Instagram are the wife-and-husband founders of LIS, Erica and Timsimon "Bamboo" Kimani, who is described in the caption for the video on Instagram as "ex-high satanist and rapper "Bamboo.""
This fact check will focus on the claim that Wernher von Braun was the founder of NASA, and not on the Kimanis' claims about Earth's firmament, which feature in the videos on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. Past Lead Stories fact checks have debunked a variety of such claims.
Wernher von Braun was a German-born phyicist and rocket engineer who joined the Nazi Party in 1937, according to his official NASA biography, and became an oficer of the SS during World War II. At the end of the war, the United States relocated many German and Austrian scientists, including von Braun, to the United States through a program named Project Paperclip. This is how the NASA website biography of von Braun describes events in his life between his surrender to American forces in 1945 and his work at Redstone Arsenal in 1958:
By late 1944, it was obvious to von Braun that Germany would be defeated and occupied, and he began planning for the postwar era. Before the Allied capture of the V-2 rocket complex, von Braun was sent south, eventually to Bavaria. He surrendered to the Americans in the Austrian Alps, along with other key team leaders. For 15 years after World War II, Von Braun worked with the U.S. Army in the development of guided missiles. As part of a military operation called Project Paperclip, he and an initial group of about 125 were sent to America where they were installed at Fort Bliss, Texas. There they worked on rockets for the U.S. Army and assisted in V-2 launches at White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico.
In 1950 von Braun's team moved to the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama, where they designed the Army's Redstone and Jupiter ballistic missiles, as well as the Jupiter C, Juno II, and Saturn I launch vehicles. A Jupiter C orbited the first U.S satellite, Explorer I, in 1958.
On July 29, 1958, Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, which was signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on July 29, 1958. The legislation set up NASA as a "civilian agency exercising control over aeronautical and space activities sponsored by the United States" apart from those with a military function.
An August 16, 1958, story from The New York Times describes congressional criticism of the newly formed NASA, but never mentions von Braun as the agency's "founder."
A Redstone Arsenal Army biography describes when von Braun was transferred to NASA:
On 1 July 1960, Von Braun and his team were transferred to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and became the nucleus of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center at Redstone Arsenal. He served as Director of the Marshall Center until February 1970 when he moved to NASA Headquarters to serve as Deputy Associate Administrator. On 1 July 1972, Von Braun left NASA to become Vice President of Engineering and Development for Fairchild Industries in Germantown, Maryland. Von Braun was inducted into the Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame in 1973. He retired in January 1977 due to ill health and died on 16 June 1977.
These official biographies and the previously mentioned declassified 1961 FBI background check (pages 3-4 describe preparations for his transfer to NASA) describe von Braun's career in detail, but make no mention of his founding NASA.
Additional Lead Stories fact checks of claims about NASA and space science can be found here.