Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger, 1914-2008
May 27, 2008 4:54 PM   Subscribe

Before developing exotic space propulsion systems like the ion engines on deep space probes, he developed guidance systems for Nazi Germany's ballistic missile, the V2. As Dr. Werner von Braun's Chief Scientist, he was one of the brilliant minds that founded the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and sent astronauts to the moon atop MSFC's Saturn V rocket. Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger, one of the last surviving rocket scientists extracted from Nazi Germany in Operation Paperclip, died today at 94.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot (28 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A pioneer of the High Frontier, truly.

posted by Falling_Saint at 4:58 PM on May 27, 2008

Fascinating. Had never heard of the man before, personally, but I'm always intrigued by the lives and work of the pioneers of the various space programs. Thanks.
posted by papafrita at 4:59 PM on May 27, 2008

Ad Astra.
posted by GuyZero at 5:07 PM on May 27, 2008

For a time, I worked with a relative (close enough to have the same last name) of Werner's. He once said, jokingly, "ve haff vays of makink you talk" but without any self-aware irony that I could detect. I laughed, but then felt a little uncomfortable.
posted by DU at 5:08 PM on May 27, 2008

A pioneer of the High Frontier, truly.

The High Frontier and blowing up civilians in London, yes.
posted by Justinian at 5:11 PM on May 27, 2008

from the 2005 BBC article about Operation Paperclip linked in the post:

he large number of still-secret Paperclip documents has led many people, including Nick Cook, Aerospace Consultant at Jane's Defence Weekly, to speculate that the US may have developed even more advanced Nazi technology, including anti-gravity devices, a potential source of vast amounts of free energy.

Cook says that such technology "could be so destructive that it would endanger world peace and the US decided to keep it secret for a long time".

Anybody know if the Operation Paperclip stuff is still classified?
posted by ornate insect at 5:18 PM on May 27, 2008

posted by Hollow at 5:20 PM on May 27, 2008

The High Frontier and blowing up civilians in London, yes.

I suppose one could be glad that the Nazi kept the rocket scientists and got rid of the nuclear physicists as opposed to the other way around.
posted by GuyZero at 5:22 PM on May 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

props (or jet engines, or pulse drives) to Chinese Jet Fighter.
posted by mwhybark at 5:31 PM on May 27, 2008

Wow, this dude really was a Nazi.
posted by The Power Nap at 5:33 PM on May 27, 2008

Also, and please note I am an aerospace fanboy, if the etymology of the Metafilter "." connoting reverence at a moment of passing is indeed from the apparently Jewish tradition of placing a stone on a grave, perhaps this is not the right thread for the gesture. I am not qualified to assess whether is is or is not, but this post was prompted by realizing that I was uncomfortable leaving my "." for Dr. Stuhlinger, despite my otherwise clear appreciation.
posted by mwhybark at 5:36 PM on May 27, 2008

gah, "whether is is" = "whether it is"
posted by mwhybark at 5:37 PM on May 27, 2008

Real link
posted by The Power Nap at 5:38 PM on May 27, 2008

20,000 slave labourers didn't die in vain - Americans played golf on the moon!
posted by Meatbomb at 5:51 PM on May 27, 2008

The Power Nap: He was a Nazi, and he apparently worked to the best of his ability in service to the Nazi war effort. It's true that a Nazi is not all that he was. What s wrong with recognizing that people are complicated? Stuhlinger doesn't deserve hagiography. He was by all accounts a great rocket scientist and, yes, a pioneer. He is also is likely at least partially responsible for many deaths, as was von Braun.

Would I have the guys to stand up to the Nazis if I were in his place? Probably not. But that's why I'm not going to have an obit thread on Metafilter, and why his should, yes, note that he was a Nazi scientist in addition to his work later on.
posted by Justinian at 5:57 PM on May 27, 2008

Also, I won't get an obit thread because my grammar sucks.
posted by Justinian at 5:57 PM on May 27, 2008

Justinian (?-2025): Roundly mocked in his lifetime, he has since become a role model to those who stand up to Grammar Nazis.
posted by DU at 6:14 PM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

More on Operation Paperclip here and here. Years ago I read this book on Operation Paperclip, and now want to re-read it.
posted by ornate insect at 6:26 PM on May 27, 2008

The Huntsville Times has reprinted a column Stuhlinger wrote in 1995 in response to discussion at the time about von Braun's own connections to Nazism, and their joint work on V-2 guidance systems:

The Nazi regime was a 12-year period during von Braun's more than 50 years of work for modern rockets and space flight. That Nazi period was extremely deplorable - nobody knows that better than those who had to live through it - but von Braun was not a convinced Nazi; nor did he have any influence on the mass production of (still incomplete) V-2 rockets at Mittelwerk, nor was it his initial goal to develop rockets as weapons for Hitler's war. Most of the accusations now raised against him cannot be substantiated by facts.

Schenker quotes from C. Simpson's book "Blowback": "...right up until the collapse of the Reich, von Braun was working to improve... the guidance system... to ensure that a higher percentage of the rockets hit London..." The first part of this statement is correct (in fact, I myself worked on the improvement of the V-2 guidance system at that time).

It is not correct, however, to say that we did it specifically to ensure that more of our rockets would hit London. Our work was typically of a long-range nature; new flight-worthy systems could not be expected before an intense development and testing time of years. 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.

Make of that what you will. I personally don't think that any German who worked on the V-2 was a war criminal any more than any Allied scientist who worked on systems used in the bombing of Germany. Either they all are, or none of them are.

There will be a special place in hell for those who did not do enough to prevent the Holocaust, but this man is no more guilty of that than any adult German living at the time.
posted by dhartung at 6:35 PM on May 27, 2008

dhartung--survivors of Mittelbau-Dora have different opinions about von Braun: see here and here (scroll down page for "V-2 Plant Survivors Publicize Their Story")
posted by ornate insect at 6:49 PM on May 27, 2008

if the etymology of the Metafilter "." connoting reverence at a moment of passing is indeed from the apparently Jewish tradition of placing a stone on a grave

What? It means a moment of silence, as you can easily find out from the FAQ.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 6:55 PM on May 27, 2008

posted by Crabby Appleton at 6:55 PM on May 27, 2008

Far be it for me to defend his actions or (purported) ideology, but not every German citizen living during World War II was a Nazi. The Nazi party furthered its influence in large part through tactics of intimidation and terror, and many (perhaps, almost certainly, the majority) were afraid to speak out or act because of this.

According to the NASA History Division's Biographies of Aerospace Officials and Policymakers(scroll down to near the bottom of the page) Ernst Stuhlinger "was a physicist who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Tbingen in 1936 and continued research into cosmic rays and nuclear physics until 1941, while serving as an assistant professor at the Berlin Institute of Technology. He spent two years as an enlisted man in the German army on the Russian Front before being assigned to the rocket development center at Peenemunde, Germany."

Imagine being wrenched from your idyllic life in academia and thrust into a conflict which has been called "the largest theater of war in history and was notorious for its unprecedented ferocity, destruction, and immense loss of life. More people fought and died on the Eastern Front than in all other theaters of World War II combined." (Wikipedia entry here for two years. His transfer to Peenemunde must have seemed like a gift from the gods. And serving as an enlisted man would hardly seem to qualify him as a high-ranking or policy-making member of the Nazi party. The majority of us do what we have to to survive in this world. Not always a pretty fact, but still a true one.

In my opinion, his later accomplishments in and service to the American space program (30 years, by my calculations) tend to overshadow the one to two years he worked on the rocket guidance systems at Peenemunde. And for those of you who would diminish the accomplishment of the moon landing, please remember that the space program served to unite the American people like nothing has before or since, at a time when we were in a potentially life-or-death struggle (possibly for the entire planet) which was known as the Cold War.
posted by Falling_Saint at 7:37 PM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Either they all are, or none of them are.

They all are.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:11 PM on May 27, 2008

I highly recommend the modern-noir "The Good German" which touches on operation paperclip...
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 3:59 AM on May 28, 2008

They'd have gone to Nuremburg were it not for Canaveral.
They got a get outa jail card.
Where's the redemption in that?
posted by Fupped Duck at 2:56 PM on May 28, 2008

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