Ernst Stuhlinger, one of the last surviving German rocket scientists who came to America after World War II and formed the engineering foundation of the nation's space program, has died. He was 94.
Stuhlinger, who died Sunday, had been in failing health for several months, according to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.
Stuhlinger served as chief scientist for Wernher von Braun and was among the group of German scientists who moved with him to Huntsville in 1950 when the Army established the Ordnance Missile Laboratories. The von Braun team developed the propulsion system that helped NASA put man on the moon in 1969.
Stuhlinger retired in 1975 as the associate director of science at the Marshall Space Flight Center, where the Saturn V moon rocket was designed. He later co-authored a book about von Braun.
Drafted into the German army, Stuhlinger fought on the Russian front before transferring to the science program led by von Braun that was designing wartime V-2 rockets launched by the Nazi regime against London.
In a 1995 article for The Huntsville Times, Stuhlinger called the Nazi era "extremely deplorable" and said he and other German rocket engineers were working with an eye toward spaceflight, not weapons, at the end of the war.
"Yes, we did work on improved guidance systems, but late in 1944 we were convinced that the war would be over before new systems could be used on military rockets. However, we were convinced that somehow our work would find application in future rockets that would not aim at London, but at the moon," Stuhlinger wrote.
The wife of fellow German scientist Konrad Dannenberg recalled Stuhlinger as someone who believed space belonged to everyone, not just one or two nations. He was eloquent and genteel, said Jackie Dannenberg.
"He was just never impatient, just a wonderful, wonderful man," she said.
Ralph Petroff, who helped spearhead efforts to restore the Space & Rocket Center's original Saturn 5 rocket, said Stuhlinger's scientific brilliance was unmatched. In the 1950s, he conceived what would eventually become the Hubble Space Telescope. He also spent years exploring the possibilities of electric propulsion ion engines for deep space travel.
Stuhlinger was "in many ways the most important technical figure from the golden age of space," along with von Braun and Russia's Sergei Korolev, who developed the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, Petroff said.
Stuhlinger missed the 50th anniversary of America in space in February. His last public appearance was in December at the "Science Goes to the Moon and Planets" seminar in Huntsville, where he spoke about his 50 years of work in rocket programs, said Ed Buckbee, a former director of the Space and Rocket Center.