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Space pioneer Georg von Tiesenhausen dies at 104

In this May 13, 2009 photo, Dr. Georg

In this May 13, 2009 photo, Dr. Georg von Tiesenhausen, center, is hugged by his son, Dr. Georg von Tiesenhausen Jr., during a surprise birthday celebration at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. Credit: AP / Glenn Baeske

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Georg von Tiesenhausen, the last of the German rocket team that launched the U.S. space program, has died at his Alabama home. He was 104.

U.S. Space & Rocket Center spokeswoman Pat Ammons confirmed to The Associated Press on Tuesday that von Tiesenhausen died Sunday.

Von Tiesenhausen started his career in 1943 at the German Rocket Center in Peenemeunde, Germany, where he held the position of section chief. It was there that his career in rocket development began.

The famed scientist worked alongside Wernher von Braun during World War II in Germany. Several years after the war, von Tiesenhausen joined von Braun in Huntsville, Alabama. While there, von Tiesenhausen proved instrumental in forming the backbone of the U.S. space program, ultimately aiding in the launch of the first U.S. satellite and the first U.S. astronauts. While at the Marshall Space Flight Center, von Tiesenhausen designed and created the famous lunar rover that accompanied the last three Apollo missions in 1971 and 1972.

Von Tiesenhausen developed the reputation as Marshall’s resident dreamer, working tirelessly to achieve his goal of establishing a permanent lunar base and then one on Mars.

The rocketry pioneer was presented a lifetime achievement award in 2011 by Neil Armstrong at the rocket center in Huntsville. Von Tiesenhausen was fondly known as “Von T” by his colleagues, including Armstrong.

“He is and has been a person who imagines what can be, and he has the skills to convert that imagine into reality,” Armstrong said in 2011. The award acknowledged von Tiesenhausen as an innovative space designer and an engaged man who still worked with students.

In 1986, von Tiesenhausen announced his plan to retire from Marshall after a career that spanned more than four decades. After his retirement, he continued working with the center, specifically with the center’s space camps, where he taught space campers.

“He will be missed,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle told “He’s the last of a generation that was always reaching for the stars.”

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