Bruno Augenstein

Bruno Augenstein

Bruno Wilhelm Augenstein (March 16, 1923 – July 6, 2005) was a German-born mathematician and physicist who made important contributions in space technology, ballistic missile research, satellites, antimatter, and many other areas.

Early life

He was born to Wilhelm Christopher and Emma Augenstein in Ellmendingen, Germany in 1923. His father was a master machinist, and in 1927 moved the family first to Brooklyn, NY and later to Providence, RI to work for the Speidel Corporation. Bruno learned to speak English from other children on the street, and taught his parents during the evenings.

A voracious reader as a child, he often read half a dozen library books each week while in grammar school on a wide variety of subjects, and especially liked adventure and science fiction. He became interested in physics and mathematics at an early age. A mathematics teacher recognized his abilities, and arranged for him to take graduate level classes at Brown University when he was 14 or 15 years old. An accomplished athlete, he held the Rhode Island state record for the discus throw in high school.

He took a Bachelor’s Degree in physics and mathematics from Brown University in 1943 (with a minor in English) and a Master’s in aeronautical engineering from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1945. At Caltech he became interested in high speed aerodynamics and rocket programs, and worked at the supersonic wind tunnel facility. He saw a lot of interest in furthering rocket programs at Caltech, with the ultimate intent of getting into space.


After a brief experiment with doctoral studies at Brown in 1946, he returned to California and took a job at North American Aviation. There he worked at the Aerophysics Laboratory, and enjoyed its wide open environment and the encouragement to work together as a team and share ideas. His projects at North American included work on weaponization of the V-2 rocket, a ramjet-powered vehicle that later became the Navajo missile, and helping to lay out hardware designs of satellite vehicles. At North American, he also began to have contact with scientists from the RAND Corporation, and discussed topics related to RAND’s early space studies and rocket and ramjet propulsion systems.

He left North American in 1948 to become a professor of aeronautics at Purdue University. During that year, he decided that the confines of the academic environment were not for him, so he came back west where his formal entry into RAND was as a consultant and subcontractor in 1949. His driving reason for joining RAND was their interest in carrying out satellite and space program work, and their reputation as a place where unconventional ideas could not only get listened to, but nurtured and developed.

He relished the unique organizational structure at RAND that allowed ideas to flow quickly and easily, and that strongly promoted the idea of inter-disciplinary work. There he could work on a broader spectrum of problems, such as the political and social problems of space flight, as well as those related to physics and hardware.

ICBM work

Initially at RAND he developed an interest in long range missiles because he saw that as an area with lots of political support (much more than satellites had at that time). He was interested in developing a missile response to what he perceived to be the Soviet threat, but also looked at missiles as a stepping stone toward building the essential tools needed for satellites to become a reality. At RAND he also developed additional interests in space and weapons systems, systems analysis and strategic policy formation.

Along with many others at the time, he thought it would be catastrophic if the Soviets beat the US to development of an operational Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) system. In the early 1950s he felt that the ICBM program headed by Convair had boxed themselves in by accepting very stringent requirements that were not really necessary. He headed a team that examined research on lighter, smaller warheads, re-entry speeds, mathematical models of bomb destruction, and other information from disparate sources. His analysis showed that by combining smaller missiles with lighter warheads and relaxing the accuracy requirements to just those needed to do the job, a US ICBM could be a reality by 1960 instead of the 1965 (or later) that Convair was aiming for. He laid out his analysis in the 1954 RAND memorandum “A Revised Development Program for Ballistic Missiles of Intercontinental Range.” This document outlined a program that would provide the United States with a new level of strategic power, [Augenstein, B. W. “Space” chapter in RAND’s “50th Anniversary of Project Air Force” document published in 1996.] and is widely regarded as the most important document of the missile age. [Kaplan, F. "The Wizards of Armageddon" Simon and Shuster, New York, 1983. ISBN 0-8047-1884-9] [MacKenzie, D. “Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance.” MIT Press 1993. ISBN 0-262-13258-3 (HB)] [Campbell, V. “How RAND Invented the Postwar World.” Invention & Technology, Vol 20, Number 1, 2004.]

atellite development

In 1954 the formal beginnings of RAND’s satellite program also started, and he felt that the ICBM technology was a necessary precursor to realistic development of satellite programs. During the mid 1950s he participated in studies to determine the types of things that could be done with satellites, including reconnaissance and weather observation.

In 1958 he left RAND to join Lockheed Missiles and Space Corporation, in anticipation that there was enough realism in the space program that important things were likely to happen there. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik 1, the first man-made satellite to orbit the earth. This sent a shock wave through the American technological community, and spurred greatly accelerated interest in development of US satellite technology. At Lockheed, his work focused on development of techniques, testing and theory to fully exploit the capabilities of space systems and develop space age materials. He went on to become Lockheed’s chief scientist for satellite programs and director or planning at the Sunnyvale facility. During that time, he and his Lockheed colleagues played the leading role in the development of CORONA, the world’s first reconnaissance satellite launched in 1960.

(On a side note, Sputnik 1 was visible to the naked eye from earth, although the satellite body was only one meter in diameter. Augenstein speculated that the Russians had left the highly polished final launch stage attached to the satellite which is what made it visible, but this was discounted by most at the time. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, examination of Soviet technical documents proved him to be correct.)

Defense and Intelligence

In 1961 he left Lockheed to join the United States Department of Defense in Washington, D.C. . At the DoD, he continued to be heavily involved in satellite, aircraft and space programs of various kinds, and was Assistant Director for Intelligence and Reconnaissance in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. One of his proudest moments at the DoD was signing the check that began production of the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane. He was awarded the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Award for intelligence work.

In 1965, he joined the Institute for Defense Analyses in Washington, a non-profit corporation that assists the United States government in addressing important national security issues, particularly those requiring scientific and technical expertise. (His departure from the DoD was driven by his dislike for the way the Vietnam War was being handled.) In 1967 he rejoined RAND in Santa Monica, California as a Vice President and Senior Scientist, and worked on policy analysis in the national space programs.

pace technology and policies

In 1971 he departed RAND and co-founded Spectravision, Inc. with several colleagues to perform consulting work on space-related policy and technology issues, systems analysis, and other research areas. Spectravision's clients included NASA, the US Department of Energy, Litton Industries, TRW, RAND and others. At Spectravision, he developed several reports for NASA on space data policy that studied space-based remote sensing, space communication of earth information, and ground-based activities and facilities. In 1972, the US had launched the ERTS-1 earth remote sensing satellite (later renamed LANDSAT). In 1978 Augenstein wrote a report for NASA on LANDSAT policy issues to help them set a future direction for US earth remote sensing programs. [Augenstein, B., W. Shapley and E. Skolnikoff, "Earth Information From Space By Remote Sensing." Report prepared for Dr. Frank Press, Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President, June 2, 1978.] A 1980 document reviewing Spectravision’s work outlined detailed research findings regarding international aspects, private sector roles, and system financing modes. Augenstein felt that questions of ownership of systems for acquiring and developing space-based information were crucial in setting the stage for continued, growing successes and use of space data. During his Spectravision years, he worked increasingly for RAND as a resident consultant, and he rejoined RAND full time in 1981.

In the 1980s he led RAND’s U.S. Air Force studies on antimatter science and technology, and co-authored a book on antiproton technology. In 1987 he spearheaded a conference to review the critical issues surrounding the establishment of a comprehensive U.S. antiproton research program and to help formulate its research goals. He later proposed a propulsion system for an antimatter rocket (referred to by others as the "Augenstein mirror matter engine" [Forward, R. L. and J. Davis “Mirror Matter: Pioneering Antimatter Physics.” John Wiley & Sons, Inc (NY), 1988 ISBN 0-471-62812-3] ) that would have uses not only in space ships, but also on earth.

Augenstein also participated in a RAND study on the proposed The National Aerospace Plane (NASP or Rockwell X-30), a vehicle that could go into orbit as well as travel over intercontinental ranges at hypersonic speeds. The study concluded that "grave doubts exist that NASP could come anywhere near its stated/advertised cost, schedule, and payload fees to orbit," and the project was cancelled in 1993.

Other activities

In 1992 he initiated a DoD program for research on micro air vehicles. In 1993 RAND asked him to write a history of RAND’s Mathematics Department and some of its accomplishments, including game theory, Monte Carlo methods, dynamic programming, and many other areas where RAND’s accomplishments led to innovations we take for granted today.

He served on many boards, including the National Library of Medicine, National Academy of Science and U.S. Dept. of Navy Health and Medicine Review Committee, and the International Astronautical Federation Committee on Interstellar Exploration.

In 2002, Augenstein wrote a paper arguing that the mathematical formulation of John von Neumann’s quantum mechanics – the authoritative mathematical embodiment of standard quantum mechanics – contains a logical contradiction, and is therefore logically inconsistent. [Augenstein, B. "von Neumann Standard Quantum Mechanics is Logically Inconsistent." Chaos, Solutions and Fractals 13 (2002) 947-956] He discussed the nature and consequences of logical inconsistency in the context of what physicists seem to intend when they use the terms “consistent” and “inconsistent.” He notes how rehabilitating von Neumann quantum mechanics, by avoiding the logical contradiction, gives variants of quantum mechanics which correlate numerous proposals, made by an articulate minority community of philosophers and physicists, for alternatives to the current theory.

Personal notes

Bruno Augenstein was a true renaissance man with a wide range of interests, including history, archeology, literature, classical music, languages, world travel, track and field, swimming and body surfing. A science fiction buff, he not only dreamed of but actively pursued the development of interstellar space travel and mankind’s exploration of the universe. (He even wrote some science fiction; one published example is the 1993 [ The Turing Test] short story.)

He especially loved the timeless writing of William Shakespeare and music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Having once told a son that Shakespeare's writing was so good that it could be adapted to any subject, the son challenged him to relate the sport of surfing to Shakespeare. His resulting compilation of Shakespeare quotes ( [ The Surfer] ) is really quite amazing. He held a joint patent on an automatic car parking machine in the 1950s, and developed an idea for a television series in the early 1960s called Project Omega that bore a startling resemblance to the later Mission Impossible TV series.

He served as a mentor to many up and coming scientists, and always encouraged them to do their homework and look at a problem from all sides with an open mind. He never really "retired" from the work he loved, and was still employed by RAND as an Emeritus Scholar during his last year. His family consisted of his sister, wife, daughter, two sons, daughter-in-law, and many dogs.


Other publications by Bruno Augenstein

*B.W. Augenstein, B.E. Bonner, F.E. Mills and M.M. Nieto, eds. "Antiproton Science and Technology." World Scientific Publishing, 1988. ISBN 9971-5-0587-8
*Augenstein B.W. "Links Between Physics and Set Theory" Chaos, Solitons and Fractals, Volume 7, Number 11, November 1996, pp. 1761-1798
*Augenstein B.W. "Hadron Physics and Transfinite Set Theory" International Journal of Theoretical Physics, Volume 25, Number 12, 1984
*Augenstein B.W., 1993. [ The Turing Test] (science fiction short story)

RAND papers by Bruno Augenstein (and others)

*The simulation of combustion models in wind tunnels - 1948
*Shock wave interaction, or the velocity effect in H.E. rounds - 1952
*Scientific satellite-payload considerations - 1955
*Policy Analysis in the National Space Programs - 1969
*U.S. Technology--Decline or Rebirth? - 1972
*Relations Connecting the Dirac, Hamilton-Jacobi, and Gauge Equations - 1972
*Almost Painless Quantum Electrodynamics - 1974
*Energy choices and preference relation "paradoxes" - 1977
*An examination of alternative nuclear breeding methods - 1978
*The relativistic perihelion shift of an artificial planet, revisited - 1978
*When can cost-reducing R&D be justified--a simple explanatory model - 1979
*Bunched launch, bunched acquisition, and work-arounds: elements of alternative spacecraft acquisition policies - 1979
*Evolution of the U.S. military space program, 1945-1960: some key events in study, planning, and program development - 1982
*Improving the means for intergovernmental communications in crisis - 1984
*Concepts, problems, and opportunities for use of annihilation energy : an annotated briefing on near-term RDT&E to assess feasibility - 1985
*Some examples of propulsion applications using antimatter - 1985
*RAND Workshop on Antiproton Science and Technology, October 6-9, 1987 : annotated executive summary - 1988
*Space transportation systems, launch systems, and propulsion for the Space Exploration Initiative : results from Project Outreach - 1991
*The National Aerospace Plane (NASP): development issues for the follow-on vehicle : executive summary - 1993
*Priority-Setting and Strategic Sourcing in the Naval Research, Development, and Technology Infrastructure - 1995
*Naval research, development, and technology--deciding what to buy and how to buy it - 1995
*“Space” chapter in RAND’s “50th Anniversary of Project Air Force” publication - 1996
*Roles and impacts of RAND in the pre-Apollo space program of the United States - 1997
*Mert Davies: A RAND Pioneer in Earth Reconnaissance and Planetary Mapping from Spacecraft - 2004 (with Bruce C. Murray); see Merton Davies

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