He graduated from the military academy of Guadalajara in 1902. He subsequently researched aeronautics, including a brief period at the University of Santander.
He is best known for his work in cosmology and pioneering studies for high altitude flight, spaceflight, computing, and for designing a pressurized space suit that was to be used in a planned stratospheric balloon flight in 1936. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), he remained loyal to the Second Spanish Republic. In 1937, he was made a general.
He was a minister in several governments of the republic in exile, and president of the republic between 1960 and 1962.