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George Landwehr von Pragenau Collection

Identifier: MC-121

Scope and Contents

Notes, correspondence, technical documents, and publications relating to the life and career of George Landwehr von Pragenau.


  • Creation: 1931 - 2016


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research in the Archives & Special Collections reading room. Handling guidelines and use restrictions will be communicated and enforced by archives staff members.

Conditions Governing Use

This material may be protected under U. S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S. Code) which governs the making of photocopies or reproductions of copyrighted materials. You may use the digitized material for private study, scholarship, or research. Though the University of Alabama in Huntsville Archives and Special Collections has physical ownership of the material in its collections, in some cases we may not own the copyright to the material. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in our collections.

Biographical / Historical

George Landwehr von Pragenau was born January 5th, 1927, in Neusiedl Am See, Burgenland, Austria to Margarita von Pragenau (née Lobenwein) and Georg Eduard Friedrich Maria Landwehr von Pragenau. As a child, he developed a keen interest in flight while watching glider pilots near his childhood home. This fascination continued during the wartime occupation of Austria, when he watched German Messerschmitt fighters fly from a nearby airfield. Later in the war, with conscription looming, he volunteered for the Luftwaffe, which he credited with saving him from being sent to the Eastern front. Von Pragenau entered the University of Vienna after World War II. The university was located in the Soviet zone of occupied Vienna, making travel and communication between himself and the outside world difficult. After completing his studies and earning a Master of Science degree in electronics and electronics communications, he found employment working with transistors being made by Dutch company Philips. Transistors were an engineering revolution — substituting old, bulky vacuum tubes with small, efficient transistors downsized electronics and the energy they consumed. In the mid-1950s, thanks to his experience working with transistors, von Pragenau received an offer from a former professor to work together for the United States Army Ballistic Missile Agency. When given the option of Dayton, Ohio or Huntsville, Alabama, von Pragenau chose to move to Huntsville due to the German-speaking community present in the city. Von Pragenau moved to the United States in 1957 and began designing circuitry to replace vacuum tubes with transistors. He spent three years with ABMA before the entire project was moved to NASA at the Marshall Space Flight Center. There, because of his continued interest in flight and rocketry, he requested to be transferred to the Rocket Configuration team. He would instead be allowed to move to the Flight Dynamics branch. Von Pragenau found tremendous fulfillment and success in this position. While testing the Saturn I rocket, he developed a stability calculation that greatly improved test results, resulting in a promotion to Director of Dynamic Testing. Though he developed the mathematics necessary for testing rockets, von Pragenau himself rarely performed any of the tests, preferring the comfort of his slide rule and conceptual mathematics. In the summer of 1961, von Pragenau met Helga Stork while visiting the Schlidt family, also NASA employees. Helga had been working as a “house daughter,” caring for the Schlidts’ four children. After a summer of water skiing and fun, von Pragenau proposed to Helen on New Years’ Eve. The two were married the following February after a trip home to Europe to visit family. In November 1963, the von Pragenaus became naturalized U.S. citizens. In 1968, von Pragenau and his team worked vigorously for three months to solve the “pogo” longitudinal oscillations which occurred in the Apollo 6 test flight—a life-threatening and rocket-damaging problem. This work is widely regarded as his finest engineering achievement. Werner von Braun remarked that had the pogo problem not been solved, man could not have gone to the Moon aboard the Saturn V. For the next 30 years, von Pragenau worked in various teams within the Flight Dynamics Branch and Astrionics Lab. He helped NASA transition from the Saturn I to the Moon-bound Saturn V rockets and finally to the Space Shuttle Program. Along the way, he worked with countless important NASA engineers, such as Werner von Braun, Walter Haeussermann, Heinz-Hermann Koelle, and many others. Von Pragenau never shied away from innovation and continuously tinkered with any design he felt could be improved. In 1974, he reimagined the Space Shuttle stack design three years after the initial design was approved and three years prior to the Shuttle’s maiden flight. He worked hard to help the recertification of the main engines of the Space Shuttle after the Challenger disaster. After 25 fruitful years in the Astrionics Lab, George von Pragenau was awarded NASA Inventor of the Year in 1985 in recognition of his work stabilizing liquid oxygen pumps in the Space Shuttle’s main engine. Von Pragenau retired from NASA in 1991, but continued to work with NASA through his one-man company Provident Technology, providing damping seals and seal testing. During his time with NASA, von Pragenau was granted ten patents. George Landwehr von Pragenau passed away July 11, 2013. He was survived by his wife of 51 years, five daughters, one son, and twelve grandchildren. He was preceded in death by one son.


8.5 Linear feet (9 boxes)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Helga von Pragenau, 2018.

Existence and Location of Copies

Processing Information

Collections are processed to a variety of levels, depending on the work necessary to make them usable, their perceived research value, the availability of staff, and competing priorities. The library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections as they are acquired, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.

Logan Cannan
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama in Huntsville Archives & Special Collections Repository

M. Louis Salmon Library
301 Sparkman Drive
Huntsville, AL 35899 Alabama 35899 United States of America