Willy Ley (October 2, 1906 – June 24, 1969) was a German-American science writer, spaceflight advocate, and historian of science who helped popularize rocketry, spaceflight, and natural history in both Germany and the United States. The crater Ley on the far side of the Moon is named in his honor.
Willy Otto Oskar Ley was the son of Julius Otto Ley, a traveling merchant, and Frida May, the daughter of a Lutheran sexton. Ley grew up in his native Berlin during the First World War under the supervision of two aunts. When war erupted, his father was in Great Britain. Consequently, he spent the remainder of the war at a detention camp on the Isle of Man. Meanwhile his mother worked as milliner in a distant city in Germany.
Ley remained unconvinced by this skeptical attitude. When he was old enough, he studied astronomy, physics, zoology, and paleontology at the University of Berlin. Ley explained, "I was never quite sure whether my studies would earn me the title of "zoologist" or "geologist," but I kept exploring, in a manner of speaking, looking especially into such corners as others had neglected." He then became interested in spaceflight after reading Hermann Oberth's book Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen ("By Rocket into Interplanetary Space"). Although it was a technical book that was difficult to understand, Ley worked through the calculations and concluded that outer space would soon become the next great frontier of human exploration. Ley was so convinced by Oberth's book that he sat down (at the age of 19) to write a popularization of its contents. He also began corresponding with every known rocket enthusiast in Europe, including Oberth himself. After publishing Die Fahrt ins Weltall ("Travel in Outer Space") in 1926, Ley became one of the first members of Germany's amateur rocket group, the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR – "Spaceflight Society") in 1927 and wrote extensively for its journal, Die Rakete ("The Rocket"). Ley would eventually become the group's Vice-President, during a time when it had no active President. Meanwhile, he was writing hundreds of short articles about rockets for German and foreign newspapers...
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