We see the work of Bellman showing up in both orbital trajectory planning/optimization and, obviously DSGE modeling. Also, in a recent example, the JWST uses ideas surrounding Pareto optimization and frontiers to schedule observations most efficiently. Linear programming was also essential for planning and executing tasks for the Apollo missions. These were just a few ideas off the top of my head.

Does anyone have any other way econ has directly contributed to aerospace/space exploration? This could be just a fantasy of mine that some lowly economist saved the day with a novel equation or something.

Edit: I did find this 1963 article written by Bellman. This leads me to believe that at least they were applying these methods simultaneously to economics and aerospace. Surely, there were insights from mathematicians doing economic modeling that crossed the hallway to their colleagues doing aerospace modeling? I think this is the crux of my question. Do we have evidence of this?


Multi-Objective Evolutionary Algorithms for Scheduling the James Webb Space Telescope: https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/document?repid=rep1&type=pdf&doi=08081b3eee9e7911c93cbe06052cdfef6c4f71a3

Optimal Earth-Moon Transfer Trajectory Design via Differential Dynamic Programming with Input Saturation Constraints https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/tastj/19/5/19_19.766/_pdf

Dynamic Programming and Mathematical Economics by Richard Bellman https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/tr/pdf/AD0400573.pdf

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Krugman has a paper on interstellar trade ! $\endgroup$ Dec 8, 2023 at 0:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "econ has directly contributed to aerospace/space exploration" Do you have any reason to assign Bellman's work or linear programming to economics? I mean it is used in economics, but neither was invented by economists? I think the Krugman paper is a much better example of economic "contributions" to the field. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Dec 8, 2023 at 7:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Giskard, that's a fair concern. I'm not as sure about econ's direct contribution to dynamic programming, though I think there is probably an argument to be made. Huge advances in linear programming were made by Kantorovich, Von Neumann, Dantzig, and Koopmans. I guess it's challenging to delineate what counts in this regard when the tool was developed by mathematicians and simultaneously utilized in multiple fields. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linear_programming $\endgroup$
    – whydaho99
    Dec 8, 2023 at 19:24

1 Answer 1


In the history of dynamic programming some economic works are considered pioneering contributions to the theory of dynamic programming (and in this sense it can be said that they contributed to aerospace research):

Dynamics programming is no exception to the rule that good ideas have deep roots. Ancestors to its functional equations can be traced through the history of mathematics. But the labors that gave birth to the field of dynamic programming bear recent dates. They include Massé's study (1946) of water resources; Wald's study (1947) of sequential decision problem in statistics; a related study by Arrow, Blackwell and Girshick(1949); a related study of the control of inventories by Arrow, Harris and Marshack(1951) and by Dvoretsky, Kiefer and Wolfowitz (1952a, 1952b); and the study by Bellmann (1952) of functional equations.

It was Bellmann that seized upon the principle of optimality and used it to analyze hundreds of optimizations problems in mathematics, engineering, economics operation research, and other fields. $^1$

Optimal control, another field of mathematics widely used by economists, and important in engineering and aerospace studies, has a long history and had its origins in the calculus of variations in the 17th century.

The calculus of variations was developed further in the 18th century by Euler and Lagrange and in the 19th century by Legendre, Jacobi, Hamilton, and Weierstrass.

A modern version of the optimal control theory, widely used by economists, is Pontrjagin's contribution and his Maximum Principle, that has its roots in the exigence of overcoming some limitations of the calculus of variations and its application in various fields of engineering and technology, and has nothing to do with economics and the work of economists.

In the famous Pontryagin's book there is no mention of any economic application, but there is an explicit discussion of the connections between his maximum principle and the method of dynamic programming.$^2$

For a short outline of the history of optimal control see

R.W.H. Sargent, Optimal Control.

Operational research and linear programming had groundbreaking contributions of some economists as Kantorovich and Koopman, but their development as separate disciplines was mainly due to military purposes and also to the second World War. For a brief history see:


$^1$Denardo, Eric V., Dynamic Programming, Dover Publications, 1982, p. 3

$^2$ L.S. Pontryagin, V.G. Boltyanskii, R.V. Gamkrelidze, E.F. Mischenko, The Mathematical Theory of Optimal Processes, (Translation by L.W. Neustadt), Pergamon Press, (1964), p. 67.


Arrow K.J., Blackwell D., Girshick M.A. (1949), "Bayes and Minimax Solutions of Sequential Decision Problem", Econometrica, 17, pp. 214-244.

Arrow K.J., Harris T.E., , Marshack J.(1951) "Optimal Inventory Policy", Econometrica, 19, pp. 250-272.

Dvoretsky A., Kiefer J., Wolfowitz J.(1952a), "The Inventory Problem: I. Case of Known Distribution of Demand", Econometrica, 20, pp. 187-222.

Dvoretsky A., Kiefer J., Wolfowitz J.(1952b), "The Inventory Problem: II. Case of Unknown Distribution of Demand", Econometrica, 20, pp. 451-466.

Massé.P. (1946) Les Réserves et la regulation de l'avenir dans la vie économique, Hermann, Paris.

Wald, A.(1947) , Sequential Analysis, Wiley.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. The survey by Sargent is really great. It's funny because I automatically thought that it was Thomas and then realized it is not. Thomas Sargent ( as I'm sure you know ) and the rest of the RE ( or is it now DSGE ) macro community use optimal control quite a bit. $\endgroup$
    – mark leeds
    Dec 9, 2023 at 3:49
  • $\begingroup$ IMO it would ad clarity to this if it was made clear which of these academics were economists and which were mathematicians or something else. Not sure how to classify people like Arrow though. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Dec 9, 2023 at 3:51
  • $\begingroup$ It is difficult. A lot of the macro-machinery ( atleast the RE kind. I can't speak outside RE ) was developed by pioneers like Bellman, Pontyagrin, John Muth, Peter Whittle etc. But what does one call them ? World renown applied mathematicians ? I don't know. $\endgroup$
    – mark leeds
    Dec 9, 2023 at 3:56
  • $\begingroup$ I should have included Kalman in above. No idea what he would call himself either. $\endgroup$
    – mark leeds
    Dec 9, 2023 at 3:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Giskard The point, as one can see in the references is that there are works in economics that open the path to dynamic programming. Someone can be both an economist and a mathematician, as Kantorovich for linear programming, but they are economists, in that studied economics! Arrow? Someone can doubt that he is an economist or should be specified who is? Pointrjagin is not an economist, and I said in the answer that his work has nothing to do with economics, economics is not important for the development of optimal control, as one also see in the short accont of R.H. Sargent. $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2023 at 10:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.