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Biographical Memoirs: Volume 81
WILLIAM M. KAULA
May 19, 1926–April 1, 2000
BY DONALD L. TURCOTTE
BILL KAULA WAS THE father of space-based geodesy. As an academic scientist for some 37 years at the University of California, Los Angeles, Bill was unique: He graduated from West Point and did not have a Ph.D. His initial move into geodesy was to improve missile trajectories. He soon learned that tracking satellites could provide revolutionary information on how Earth works. He lived to see the determination of absolute positions on Earth to a millimeter accuracy using the military Global Positioning System array of satellites. Bill was also one of the fathers of comparative planetology: Understand the planets and you improve the understanding of Earth.
Bill Kaula was born in Sydney, Australia, on May 19, 1926, to Edna Mason, an Australian of British descent, and Edgar (Ed) Kaula, an American of Czech descent. Ed was a Texaco executive in the days when the United States exported petroleum products. Moves to New Zealand and Holland followed, but in 1935 Ed lost both his job and his wife due to alcoholism. Edna stayed in New York with their younger son David, while Ed and Bill returned to the Kaula home in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Bill found schoolwork easy, so he spent his adolescence in ways consistent with his introspective nature—chess, playing