The Advent of the Rocket by Robert Hutchins Goddard

The Advent of the Rocket by Robert Hutchins Goddard

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The Advent of the Rocket by Robert Hutchins Goddard

Robert Hutchins Goddard (1882-1945). A native of Worcester, Massachusetts, Goddard's family was staying at the suburban home of friends in Worcester when, on October 19, 1899, he climbed into an old cherry tree to prune its dead branches, Instead, he began daydreaming about sending a device of some sort to Mars. It made him feel as though he now had a purpose in life. October 19 became "Anniversary Day," noted in his diary as his personal holiday. In 1915, as assistant professor at Clark University he began experiments on the efficiency of rockets. He bought some commercial rockets and calculated their momentum. By 1926, Goddard had constructed and tested successfully the first rocket using liquid fuel. It was one of Goddard's firsts in the now booming significance of rocket propulsion in the fields of military missilery and the scientific exploration of space.


Rockets were invented by the Chinese, a spin-off from their invention of gunpowder--some time around the year 1000, perhaps earlier. Rockets added a new dimension to fireworks--another Chinese contribution--but, invevitably, they were also applied to warfare, as missiles to set the enemy's cities on fire. The British took notice in 1791, when Indian troops, under Tipoo Sultan, employed rockets against them. William Congreve, a British officer, developed a military rocket and in 1806 urged its use against Napoleon. "The rocket's red glare" in the US anthem refers to the use of Congreve rockets in 1814 in an unsuccessful British attack on Fort McHenry, outside Baltimore. The aim of such rockets was notoriously inaccurate, and their use declined as artillery improved. However, commercial rockets were sold for use by ships, for carrying a line to the shore in case of shipwreck.


It's easy to see how the rocket has altered the course of human history. Rockets have been used for a multitude of tasks including both good and less good uses. They've transported millions of people safely to their destinations. But they also have been placed on nuclear warheads so as to menace another country. They've transported Americans to the moon. But they also have propelled grenades into public buses.

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