Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger (December 19, 1913 – May 25, 2008) was a German atomic, electrical and rocket scientist born in Niederrimbach, Germany. He earned his Ph.D. in physics at age 23. In 1939 he went to work for the German Atomic Energy Program. In 1943 he joined Dr. Wernher von Braun's team at the German village of Peenemünde, where he worked in the field of guidance systems.
He was one of 126 scientists who immigrated to the United States with Dr. von Braun after World War II as part of Operation Paperclip. On April 14, 1955, he became a naturalized United States citizen.
In the 1950s Stuhlinger worked at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, where he developed designs for solar-powered spacecraft. The most popular of those designs relied on ion thrusters, which use ionize either caesium or rubidium vapor and accelerate the positively charged ions through gridded electrodes. The spacecraft would be powered by the one kilowatt of radiant energy that falls on each square meter of space from the sun. He referred to it as a "sunship".
Stuhlinger was director of the space science lab at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, from 1960 to 1968, and then its associate director for science from 1968 to 1975, when he retired and became an adjunct professor and senior research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
He is considered as one of the pioneers of electric propulsion having, among many contributions, authored the classic textbook Ion Propulsion for Space Flight (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1964). In 2005, he was honored by the Electric Rocket Propulsion Society, and awarded its "Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Electric Propulsion."
Stuhlinger passed away in Huntsville at age 94, after an illness.