Defense News

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Germans, some Rockets, and Huntsville

In 1950, this cotton market town in northern Alabama lost a bid for a military aviation project that would have revived its mothballed arsenal. The consolation prize was dubious: 118 German rocket scientists who had surrendered to the Americans during World War II, led by a man — a crackpot, evidently — who claimed humans could visit the moon.

Those German helped launch the first American satellite, Explorer I, into orbit in January 1958 and putting astronauts on the moon in 1969.

Far less attention, though, has been given to the space program’s permanent transformation of Huntsville, now a city of 170,000 with one of the country’s highest concentrations of scientists and engineers. The area is full of high-tech giants like Siemens, LG and Boeing, and a new biotech center.

Rocket scientists, propulsion experts and military contractors have given the area per capita income levels above the national average and well above the rest of the state.

Huntsville residents regard their city as an oasis, as un-Alabaman as Alabama can be. But they acknowledge that the state’s backwater reputation is a hindrance to more.

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