In 1992, on this day a chance discovery in Soviet era archive records revealed that treachery in the Nazi High Command was the key to the USSR beating the United States in the race to the moon.
Red Sky at Night by Ed & Scott PalterReichführer Heinrich Himmler had long suspected that the technical director of the German rocket program Wernher von Braun was more preoccupied with space travel than the development of the offensive weaponry which might have save the Third Reich. Placed under surveillance in October 1943, a young female dentist who was an SS spy reported comments made at an engineer's house in Peenemünde. His colleagues Riedel and Gröttrup had said that they were working on a spaceship1 and that they felt the war was not going well; this was considered a "defeatist" attitude leading to Von Braun's detention in a Gestapo cell in Stettin (now the town of Szczecin in Poland).
Deputy Führer Martin Bormann suspected that Himmler was planning to use von Braun's research as a bargaining chip with the Americans. Of course Himmler's mistake was to detain von Braun near the Eastern Front. Because both Bormann and the chief of the Gestapo Heinrich Mueller were Soviet agents who saw a similar opportunity - but with the Russians. They arranged for von Braun to be sprung from Stettin, and supplied with the secret codes that allowed him to pass through Soviet lines as a "Free German". Codes that they themselves would use with twelve months to save their own necks.
One can speculate as to the alternative possibility of a defection to the West. Such an outcome must be considered less desirable to Von Braun given his well documented use of slave labour at Peenemünde and also his ruthlessness in accepting a command position as a Sturmbannführer in the SS. Aiming for the stars, he was prepared to see his rockets used to hit London2, and therefore the possibility of him standing trial as a war criminal at Nuremberg cannot be completely dismissed.
Of course within two decades, and supplied with the unrestricted resources that only an undemocratic society could provide, von Braun had completed his space port at Baikonur. In 1966 the embarrassing spectacle of Germany losing the Soccer World Cup Final to England was soon displaced by the image of a much greater German triumph, Prussian Rocketry powering Yuri Gargarin to the surface of the moon.
Even though they were never destined to meet again, by coincidence Bormann and Von Braun died within a month of each other in 1977. Far from home Bormann died in his retirement apartment in Moscow, and von Braun in Kazakhstan, overlooking the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Both having the ultimate satisfaction of knowing that the development of the Soviet mission to Mars was ahead of its schedule for a landing on the Red planet in 19803.