Operation Overcast

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Operation Overcast

The issue of Life magazine published 75 years ago today featured an amazing story. German scientists, it said, had been working on placing a giant mirror in space. The mirror would reflect the Sun’s rays to the surface below — starting wide-spread fires or incinerating cities.

The project never got far, of course. But by the time the article appeared, some of the Germans who’d worked on such high-tech projects had been captured by the Americans.

Many of them were brought to the U.S. under a project that was authorized just days before the Life magazine issue appeared. It first was known at Operation Overcast, but later was changed to Operation Paperclip.

In all, about 1600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians were brought to the U.S. They’d worked on rockets and other weapons. Many were directly involved in war-time atrocities. But American intelligence agencies hushed up their histories. They reasoned that it was more important to have the knowledge of the German scientists — and to keep it out of the hands of the Soviets.

The most famous group was headed by Wernher von Braun, who led development of the V-2 rocket — a weapon built with slave labor. He and his team spent five years working on rockets in West Texas and New Mexico.

Later, the team moved to Alabama. There, it built the rocket that launched America’s first satellite, as well as the giant Saturn V — the rocket that sent astronauts to the Moon.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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