Rocketry and "If at first you don;t succeed......"

from:Klugerman, Rabbi Tzvi

to:Mathematical Physics

Time March 16, 2016

Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-fueled rocket 90 years ago today (1926). Goddard, who was born in 1882, had been interested in outer space since he read H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. While he was a student at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Goddard began experimenting with a rocket that was powered by gunpowder. His rocket produced a lot of smoke, which alarmed the students and faculty who shared the physics building with him. He later had successful outdoor tests with powder rockets, some of which shot up 500 feet. But powder wasn't very energy efficient, and Goddard eventually began researching ways to use liquid fuel instead.

In the early 1900s, space travel wasn't on the government's radar. Goddard had a hard time getting federal grants for his research, and he usually ended up paying for his rockets out of his own pocket. Finally, he received a $5,000 grant from the Smithsonian Institution, which enabled him to do research and publish a paper on "A Method for Reaching Extreme Altitudes" in 1920. In the paper, he speculated that rockets could be used to reach the moon. The New York Times heard about his paper and ridiculed him. He became a laughingstock overnight, and people called him "the Moon Man," but he said, "Every vision is a joke until the first man accomplishes it; once realized, it becomes commonplace." He never held a very high opinion of the press after that. Goddard didn't give up, and on this date in 1926, he completed the first successful launch of his liquid-fueled rocket in Auburn, Massachusetts. The 10-foot rocket achieved a height of 41 feet and an average speed of 60 miles per hour.

Unfortunately, Goddard died of cancer in 1945, 12 years before the Soviet Union successfully launched its Sputnik satellite. After the successful launch of NASA's Apollo 11 spacecraft in 1969, the Times printed a retraction of their ridicule of Goddard and his vision.

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