Their two countries had just fought each other in World War II, and now American military leaders wanted them to work together on this country's infant rocket program.
What could bond rocket scientists and engineers from Germany and America? Other than racquets, love of their families and gratitude for surviving the war, what did they share that could make them a team?
Cars. One answer turned out to be cars, and that answer was celebrated in Huntsville, Ala., Saturday at the Apollo 11 Celebration Car Show that kicked off a week-long celebration of the Moon mission. The Saturn In a rocket that took the astronauts off the Earth was developed and critical parts built in Huntsville by a German-American team led by Wernher von Braun.
"They normally did not socialize," Apollo program engineer Jack Stokes said Saturday at the show near the US Space & Rocket Center. "But there was an existing culture of car people, Germans, English, Italians and Americans. The cars were the bonding agent. "
Stokes was sitting under a canopy as he remembered, but even the fierce July sun overhead did not keep hundreds of people from swarming the 90-plus vintage cars on display. The entry qualifications were simple. "
The window for acceptance was built between 1945 and 1975, and that's in some of the most iconic cars of all time. German Volkswagen Beetles, 1956 Chevy's, and Dodge Charger Daytona designed by Chrysler in Huntsville with the optional and seriously fierce 436 with. in. Hemi V-8 engine. And perhaps rarest of all, the show boasted and 1948 Keller made by the same name founded in Huntsville.
Judging by the crowd, cars are still a bonding agent. Men and women of all ages and races stood by cars that were parts of their own personal histories, swapping stories and legends.
Stokes, who joined the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville as a "human factor engineer "In 1967." Von Braun wanted to make sure the human factor was taken into account "in building the Saturn V, Stokes said.
Stokes said he almost did not get the job. The interview was going badly. Then something sparked and a car comment, and the two men were off and running. "Car talk got my job," Stokes grinned. He kept that job until he retiring in 2005.