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Ernst Karl Klauss Collection

Identifier: MC-72

Content Description

This colleciton contains drawings, photographs, and an autobiography of Ernst Karl Klauss.


  • Creation: 1946 - 1986

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

Ernst Karl Edmund Klauss was born on May 9, 1914, in Berlin, Germany. He began his first apprenticeship on April 1, 1929 as a technical draftsman apprentice at the Orenstein and Koppel engineering company. During this period he learned many mechanical trades, such as forging, welding, and machine operations. After finishing his apprenticeship, Ernst found trouble finding work due to a recession in Germany. He eventually found a job at the Berlin Post Office in December of 1932. He worked here until 1936, when he found work in the technical drafting industry at the German Steam Locomotive Simplification Office. In this role, Ernst worked on the DRB Class 50 steam locomotive.

During this time, Ernst was pressured to join the Nazi’s German Labor Front, which he had previously resisted joining. He felt that he couldn’t refuse this offer, however, and thought that if he declined it “would have meant lay-off and probably concentration camp as an enemy of the government”.

In 1935, Ernst met his wife, Hildegard. They would be married on June 14, 1937, in East Prussia. Shortly after, on January 29, 1939, Hildegard gave birth to the couple’s first child, Dieter.

On March 1, 1939, Ernst left Berlin and began work at the design office in Peenemunde, where he first met Wernher von Braun. At Peenemunde he worked on developing a new pump for the V-2 rocket. Ernst’s work was almost disrupted by being drafted into the Germany army, but he failed the physical examinations due to a heart condition. His work was later impacted by the British bombings of Peenemunde, and Ernst’s team had to move to the Anklam airport to test their valve designs for the V-2. Ernst also worked in another group designing pumps, turbines and heat exchangers. He helped design pumps for liquid oxygen. These pumps were often volatile, but Ernst helped test their designs to ensure safe operations.

Ernst was soon promoted to Group Leader of the Valve Lab, where he worked on the anti-aircraft Wasserfall missile. The team continued to work at the Anklam airport until it too was damaged by Allied bombing runs. Ernst and the other rocket scientists then moved to Friedland, Mecklenburg and set up a new lab there.

In 1944, Ernst was obligated to join the Nazi Volkssturm, a national militia established as the German army grew more desperate. Ernst was able to avoid giving an oath of commitment to Adolf Hitler though based on the urgency of his work with the rocket team.

Eventually the rocket team again relocated from Friedland to Leutenburg, where Ernst began working in Friedensburg Castle. In Leutenberg Ernst helped resume operations of their test facilities, though he claimed this was not to help the war effort but rather so the team could claim they “were involved in important work and could not be drafted for other war activities. Ernst would further write that they “really did not work anymore in the castle”, and rather just tried to stay safe and avoid trouble.

This relative peace did not last, however, and Ernst was one day told that the entire rocket team needed to go to a secret assembly place in the Alps. The team was nervous that they were being taken to be killed by the SS, but they still went to their ordered location in Oberammergau. There they met other members of the rocket team that had been stationed elsewhere, including Dr. von Braun. The team took up residence in surrounding villages, where American soldiers soon found them. The Americans wanted Ernst to come to America, but he refused to go unless his family was located. This was a common sentiment amongst the Peenemunde scientists, and Dr. von Braun helped convince the Americans to accomplish this goal. On November 3, 1945, Ernst left Germany for the USA. He first traveled to Le Havre, in France, where he boarded the Argentina and sailed for New York.

From New York, Ernst next traveled via train to El Paso, to begin work at Fort Bliss. At Fort Bliss, Ernst helped the Army develop new rocket designs modeled after the V-2. He worked on an expulsion unit for the Redstone warhead, and continued designing valves for rocket engines. One of his other projects was the Hermes 2, a ramjet missile.

By May of 1950, the rocket team had outgrown Fort Bliss and traveled via train to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. Ernst was in charge of testing and the development of testing facilities at the Arsenal. Ernst’s Hermes 2 project was soon cancelled, but he was assigned to work on the Redstone missile. He helped develop a fixture that would expel the warhead out of the missile back at Fort Bliss, and this design needed to be updated to be compatible with the Redstone missile.

In 1954, Ernst became a citizen of the United States. His family became citizens soon after, in 1955.

In 1956, Ernst asked to be moved from the parts testing for the Redstone missile to the compete systems testing, which was granted when an opening came up. Ernst then worked with the Chrysler company to work on the production testing for the missile. Together they developed detailed test procedures, and during this process Ernst traveled regularly to the Chrysler plant in Detroit, where the Redstone missile was actually being produced.

After the Redstone project was completed, Ernst began working on the design for a longer ranged missile that became the Jupiter missile. This also came with a promotion, and Ernst became the Project Engineer for the program. Chrysler was again chosen to produce this missile, so Ernst continued his regular travel to supervise the production in Detroit.

During this time, the government’s interest in space travel began to increase, and Wernher von Braun began plans to adapt the Jupiter missile to deliver a satellite payload into space. The government initially selected the Vangaurd missile for their satellite program, but after consistent failures, they decided to adapt the Jupiter missile. Ernst worked to adapt the Jupiter missile, and on January 31, 1958, the finished Jupiter C launched Explorer 1 into orbit. Ernst believed that if the government had selected his Jupiter missile in the first place, the US could have beaten the Soviets’ Sputnik satellite into orbit.

When NASA was officially formed, Ernst followed Wernher von Braun and most of the Peenemunde scientists to the new Agency. He had been working on the Juno V rocket as the Chief Project Engineer, but this rocket was soon renamed the Saturn I once NASA was established. Ernst continued to direct the team of NASA scientists and Chrysler contractors to develop this rocket as the Senior Project Manager of the Quality Laboratory [1]. He continued in this leadership role through the development of the Saturn V, and he regularly traveled to different facilities as the rocket was developed.

In November of 1970, Ernst left NASA as the agency reduced its numbers during the Apollo program’s waning years. He found another job working as a federal contractor for the Federal Electric Corporation (FEC), where he was a Senior Technical Assistant to the Laboratory Director [1]. Ernst worked here until June of 1972, when was asked to be laid off and he officially retired.

After his retirement, Ernst volunteered at the Red Cross in Huntsville for several years. He also assisted the US Space and Rocket Center with identifying and captioning technical photographs from Wernher von Braun’s collection. He died on July 29, 1986 in Ottobrunn, West Germany [2].

This biography is abridged entirely from the UAH Archives Ernst Karl Klauss Collection’s “The Autobiography of Ernst Karl Klauss” (Box 1, Folder 102), except where noted.

Other Sources

[1] UAH Archives Ernst Karl Klauss Collection – “Employment Documents”, Box 1, Folder 104

[2] UAH Archives Ernst Karl Klauss Collection – “Obituary”, Box 1, Folder 101


0.25 Linear foot (1 box)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Charles Lundquist and David Christensen, 2010.

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.

Drew Adan
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