TUM Honorary Senator Robert Schmucker

″I am grateful for my life″

Robert Schmucker is one of the very few rocket experts in the world who has worked with so many different types of rockets. Precisely this wide range is what is important to him. Professionally, he has always been demanding, but privately in contrast, he is rather modest. This makes his commitment all the greater.

Professor Dr. Robert Schmucker not only advises the Federal Ministry of Defense, NATO or the UN, but can also be seen and heard in the media time and again when it comes to missile programs, nuclear weapons and international conflicts. He has been teaching at TUM since 1971 and is passionate about passing on his experience and, above all, the understanding of his subject. “For me, it’s not the mere numbers that are important, but the content,” he says. “You just need the basic arithmetic operations and understanding of what is important and what is less important. You need to be able to estimate magnitudes and trends.”

And he shows you how to succeed: “I always tell the students in my lectures: The goal is a 1.0.” Satisfactory is not enough for him. His goals are always ambitious, his projects challenging. It’s all about achieving his goals, and “as quickly as possible,” he adds, “because the only thing we don’t have is time.”

Robert Schmucker completed his education in exactly the same way: his diploma in 1967, a doctorate three years later, in between a stint at NASA in the USA, and his habilitation in 1974. A broad-scale education was important to him:  As one of the few rocket experts, he has worked with liquid-propellant, hybrid-propellant, and solid-propellant rockets. This is also a reason why he is one of the world’s most renowned rocket experts.

Practical experience during his studies

Alongside his studies, he always wanted to work in a hands-on way – which is why he founded WARR as a student in 1962 and headed it until 1974: The “Scientific Workgroup for Rocketry and Spaceflight” has always been making practical projects possible in the field of spaceflight, and Robert Schmucker is proud of the group to this day: “It’s great that it has established itself at the university.”

In 1974, the WARR students – still together with Robert Schmucker – launched the first German hybrid rocket; within the group, the Hyperloop project group was also founded in 2015, which today celebrates one success after another, or now the start-up Isar Aerospace, which began producing launch vehicles this year. “These are all my boys and girls (Buam and Madln) – a beautiful thing!”

Space travel happens at the edge of what’s possible.

He has worked hard for his successes: sticking with it, not giving up, following through. “That already started when I was working on my doctorate,” he recalls. “We had to build everything ourselves, do it ourselves.” And of course, not everything always worked out; things always happened that weren’t actually planned. “That’s when you have to keep on going until you get it right.”

His challenges were “the disasters when your back is against the wall” and, for example, when you watch how a rocket engine explodes. After that, you have to find out what went wrong so that you can do it better the next time. “Spaceflight happens at the edge of what’s possible,” says Robert Schmucker. “Things go wrong all the time, and then you have to keep on going anyway.”

If I’m doing well, I need to look at giving some of that away.

Despite all of his successes, Robert Schmucker is still a modest and grateful person. He is aware that his life has also been determined by coincidences: “If I hadn’t met Professor Ruppe, if I hadn’t studied aerospace engineering, if I hadn’t earned my doctorate – well, my life would have turned out completely differently.” His first encounter with Professor Dr. Harry Ruppe – full professor of space technology at TUM – was one of the formative events of his studies: the assistants of the Chair of Flight Mechanics had spontaneously taken him along to a lecture about manned Mars flights. “That was the initial spark for my career.”

Connection to TUM

He is very grateful for his life, he says. And that is also one reason for his great commitment. “If I’m doing well, I need to look at giving some of that away,” he says. That’s why he and his wife have established two foundations and also generously supported the TUM University Foundation, because “TUM is very close to my heart.”

For Robert Schmucker, it was always clear that he would study at TUM. His brother had already studied electrical engineering at what was then TH Munich (TH München Elektrotechnik), so there was no other option for his parents than to send their younger son there too. “I’m a mechanical engineer through and through with an additional focus on chemistry,” says Robert Schmucker, emphasizing, “so that’s exactly what you need for rocket technology and aerospace, the way I see it.”