Robert Hutchings Goddard

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Goddard, Robert H. (1882-1945)

American physicist

Robert H. Goddard was foremost among the first generation of rocket and space pioneers. Goddard not only contributed to space flight theory, but also engaged over most of his adult life in the actual development of rockets. As a result, he is credited with launching the world's first liquid-propellant rocket. He developed and patented a large number of innovations in rocket technology that were later used in the much larger rockets and missiles employed by the Germans during World War II and, thereafter, by the United States' and Soviet Union's missile and space programs, among others. Paradoxically, Goddard's influence upon modern rocketry was not as great as it would have been had he been less a solitary inventor and more inclined to publish his findings in scientific journals and elsewhere.

Robert Hutchings Goddard was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, to Nahum Danford Goddard, himself something of an inventor, and Fannie Louise Hoyt Goddard, the daughter of a machine knife manufacturer for whom her husband worked at the time of their marriage. Of modest means but old New England stock, Goddard's parents had a second son who died in infancy. Goddard himself was prone to illness and fell behind in school, compensating with self-education. Encouraged by his father in his early inclinations towards experimentation and invention, Goddard also heeded his father's advice to mind his own business and work for himself rather than someone else. Science fiction proved another early influence upon him, one that apparently led to a transforming experience he had in a cherry tree on October 19, 1899, when he imagined a device that might ascend to Mars. As he stated in an autobiographical memoir, the experience suddenly made life seem purposeful to him. Throughout the rest of his life, he

recorded the date in his diary as "anniversary day," and he revisited the tree on that date whenever he was in Worcester.

Goddard received his early education in the Boston area , where his father had been working, and had not done well in algebra during his first year in high school. When the family moved back to Worcester in 1898, after his mother was diagnosed with tuberculosis, his experience in the cherry tree compelled him to excel in math and physics at South High School. Because of his own illnesses, Goddard did not graduate from South High until 1904, when he was 21. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in general science, with a concentration in physics, from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1908, and a master's degree from Clark University in 1910. By 1909, Goddard had already begun teaching physics at Worcester Polytechnic and shortly after receiving his doctorate from Clark in 1911, he became an honorary fellow in physics there. Working as a research instructor in physics at Princeton University, Goddard fell dangerously ill in 1913 and, like his mother, was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Initially given only two weeks to live, he recovered sufficiently the following year to become a physics instructor at Clark, where he was promoted to assistant professor in 1915. Goddard would remain at Clark throughout much of his academic career, allowing for leaves of absence to pursue rocket research. Goddard eventually became head of Clark's physics department and director of the physical laboratories, obtaining the rank of full professor in 1934. In 1924, Goddard married Esther Christine Kisk, the secretary to the president of Clark. Although the couple had no children, they became devoted to one another and to Goddard's rocket research, in which Esther became very much a partner.

Goddard apparently did not begin serious work on rocket development until early 1909, while a graduate student at Clark. He had, by 1914, obtained a patent for a two-stage powder rocket, followed by patents for a cartridge-loading rocket and a rocket that burned a mixture of gasoline and liquid nitrous oxide. While he was aware of the greater efficiencies of liquid propellants, Goddard found them hard to obtain, preferring instead, smokeless powder, which offered fewer experimental difficulties. Using a steel combustion chamber and a sleeker exhaust nozzle, named for Swedish engineer Carl de Laval, Goddard was able to achieve higher rates of energy efficiency and exhaust velocities than previous rockets had exhibited. He also developed a device that allowed him to fire a rocket in a vacuum, showing that it could operate in the upper atmosphere where air density was small and also demonstrating that it did not require a reaction against the air, as many knowledgeable people at the time supposed.

Until 1916, Goddard had conducted these experiments using the meager funds and facilities provided by Clark, as well as money from his own pocket. No longer able to support the research required to advance his theories, Goddard applied for funding to the Aero Club of America and the Smithsonian Institution. After several inquiries into his request, Goddard reported to the Smithsonian that he had developed a means of propelling meteorological recording devices to heights previously unattainable by sounding balloons, indicating that altitudes of 100200 mi (161322 km) could be reached within a year's time. By January 1917, The Smithsonian had awarded Goddard a grant for $5,000. This proved to be the first of many grants from the Smithsonian, Clark University, the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Daniel Guggenheim, and especially the Guggenheim Foundation.

Before the Smithsonian funds could be put to use, America became embroiled in World War I. Supported by the U.S. Army, Goddard and a number of technicians developed both multiple-charge and single-charge recoilless rockets, the latter serving as a prototype for the bazooka which proved effective against tanks during World War II. While tests proved these weapons successful, the armistice intervened before they could be employed. Once World War I was over, Goddard's department head at Clark prodded him into publishing the results of his solid-propellant rocket researches in a paper entitled "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes," which appeared in the Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections. In it, Goddard not only explained the experiments he had conducted, but laid the foundations for much of the early theory of modern rocketry. While devoted primarily to the solid propellants he had used in his research, the paper did mention the greater efficiencies of propellants such as hydrogen and oxygen used in their liquid states. The paper briefly discussed the use of stages (propulsion units coupled together to fire in sequence) in order to reach extreme altitudes, and included numerous calculations of such matters as the reduced resistance a rocket would face as it climbed higher and entered less dense portions of the earth's atmosphere.

The reaction to this paper was shaped by a Smithsonian press release emphasizing a point Goddard had not intended as the focus of the work. It suggested the possibility of using a rocket to send a small quantity of flash powder to the dark side of the Moon , where, when ignited, it could be viewed from the earth through telescopes, thereby proving that extreme altitude had been reached. The press played up the idea of a moon rocket, and Goddard was embarrassed by the publicity. His inclination against publicizing his work until rockets were actually capable of reaching such altitudes was reinforced. Nevertheless, he persisted in his rocket development in his native Massachusetts for the next decade. Frustrated at the problems he encountered in using solid propellants, he switched to liquid propellants in 1921, though it was not until March 16, 1926almost ten years after his initial proposal to the Smithsonianthat he launched the world's first liquid-propellant rocket from a hill in Auburn, Massachusetts. Since this was an important event in the history of rocketry, it is noteworthy that the hill, on his Aunt Effie's farm, had an Indian name meaning "a turning point or place." The small rocket only rose 41 ft (12.5 m)far short of the altitudes he sought to reachbut it represented a significant beginning to the age of rocket flight, comparable, perhaps, to the Wright brothers' contributions to aviation.

From a number of standpoints, including its weather and its population density, Massachusetts was hardly an ideal location for launching noisy, fire-belching rockets. So, when Goddard received a generous $50,000 grant from philanthropist Daniel Guggenheim in mid1930, he took a two-year leave of absence from Clark University and, with his wife and some technical assistants, rented a farmhouse near Roswell, New Mexico, where he proceeded with his rocket development. Loss of funding after 1932 interrupted his research there, but he returned to Roswell in 1934 to resume his testing. In the process, he invented and patented a large number of innovations, including a gyroscopically-controlled guidance system, and a method for cooling the combustion chamber that used a film of propellant streaming along the sides of the chamber. Parachutes were incorporated for recovery of the rocket and a number of instruments were devised for measuring the rocket's performance. Goddard also searched for ways to make a more lightweight, streamlined rocket casing. But he never succeeded in putting all of these components together to create a vehicle capable of reaching anything close to the 100200 mi (161322 km) of altitude he had originally expected to achieve. The greatest height one of his rockets reached was estimated at 8,0009,000 ft (2,4402,740 m) in March, 1937.

In 1941, he discontinued his attempt to reach extreme altitudes and began work for the armed forces on defenserelated rocket research as he had during World War I. In 1942, he moved his crew of assistants to the Naval Engineering Experimental Station in Annapolis, Maryland, where they worked on developing jet-assisted take-off devices for aircraft, pumps, and a variable-thrust rocket motor that became the basis for the one later used on the Bell X2 rocket plane, the first aircraft in America to use a throttleable engine. This, like the bazooka, was a very important and tangible result of his research. His many patented inventions were also significant. In June 1960, the Army, Air Force, Navy, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration recognized their importance when they granted Mrs. Esther C. Goddard and the Guggenheim Foundation a settlement of $1,000,000 for the right to use many of Goddard's patents.

Despite his technical achievements, however, Goddard's career remained somewhat flawed by his failure to reach the extreme altitudes he sought, and by his secretive nature and consequent failure to communicate most of the details of his research to other scientists and engineers. In 1936, he did publish another paper entitled "Liquid-propellant Rocket Development." Here, Goddard devoted much more attention to liquid propulsion than he had in 1919, and while he did include pictures of some of his rockets and discussed some of their features, the brevity of his treatment (some seventeen pages in his published papers) made the work of limited utility to other scientists and engineers engaged in rocket development. While some of them were inspired by Goddard's example, for the most part they had to develop their own counterparts to his innovations without the benefit of a detailed knowledge of his pioneering inventions.

Despite this failing, Goddard was a remarkable figure in the history of rocket development. Of the many streets, buildings, and awards named in his honor, perhaps the most significant is NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, dedicated on March 16, 1961the 35th anniversary of the first flight of a liquid-propellant rocket. On that occasion, Mrs. Goddard accepted a Congressional Gold Medal presented posthumously to him. A little more than nine years later, Clark University named its new library after Goddard. Since 1958, the National Space Club in Washington, DC, has awarded a Goddard Memorial Trophy for achievement in missiles, rocketry, and space flight. Finally, it might be noted that in 1960, Goddard was the ninth recipient of the Langley Gold Medal, awarded only sparingly since 1910 by the Smithsonian Institution for excellence in aviation.

See also Aerodynamics; Satellite; Spacecraft, manned

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Robert Hutchings Goddard

The American pioneer in rocketry Robert Hutchings Goddard (1882-1945) was one of the founders of the science of astronautics.

Robert Goddard was born on Oct. 5, 1882, in Worcester, Mass., the son of Nahum Danford Goddard, a businessman, and Fannie Hoyt Goddard. From his earliest youth Goddard suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis. Although he remained out of school for long periods, he kept up with his academic studies, and he read voluminously in Cassell's Popular Educator and science fiction.

In 1904 Goddard enrolled at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and received his degree in physics in 1908. He then entered the graduate school of Clark University, where he was granted a master's degree in 1910 and received his doctorate a year later.

Early Investigations in Rocketry

Goddard went to the Palmer Physical Laboratory of Princeton University as a research fellow in 1912. He proposed a research project he described as "the positive result of force on a material dielectric carrying a displacement current." In the course of his experimentation he developed a vacuum-tube oscillator that he subsequently patented in 1915, well before that of Lee De Forest.

While Goddard's days in the laboratory were given over to his research in radio, his nights were free to work upon the fundamentals of rocketry. Approaching the problem theoretically, he was able by 1913 to prove that a rocket of 200 pounds' initial mass could achieve escape velocity for a 1-pound mass if the propellant was of gun cotton at 50 percent efficiency or greater. He began patenting many of the rocket concepts that ultimately gave him a total of more than 200 patents in this particular field of technology. They were to cover many of the fundamentals in areas such as propellants, guidance and control, and structure. For example, his patent granted on July 7, 1914, clearly identifies the concept of multistaging of rockets, without which the landing of men on the moon or sending probes to Mars and Venus would not be possible.

When his health permitted, Goddard returned to teaching and research at Clark University. By this time he was wholly devoted to rocketry. He built a vacuum chamber in which he fired small, solid-propellant rockets to study the effects of different types of nozzles in such an environment. Having exhausted his own funds and not wishing to draw further on the resources of the university, he applied to the Smithsonian for a grant of $5,000, which he was awarded in 1917. With these funds he began the study of rocketry in earnest.

During World War I the U.S. Army Signal Corps provided $20,000 to the Smithsonian Institution for research in applied rocketry by Goddard. He moved to the Mt. Wilson Observatory in California and set up a workshop in which to experiment with solid-propellant rockets as weapons. There, with two assistants, Henry C. Parker and Clarence N. Hickman, he set to work on two projects.

Parker worked on a rocket with a single charge that could be launched from an open tube. This was the forebear of the World War II bazooka. Meanwhile, Hickman devoted his energies to one of Goddard's pet but more complex problems—a rocket propelled by the injection of successive solid charges into its motor. Parker's rocket proved to be successful, but Hickman's was simply unworkable. However, both rockets were demonstrated for military officials, but despite the success and the obvious enthusiasm of the military, the armistice 4 days after the demonstration canceled all Army interest in Goddard and his rockets. It was not revived for 26 years.

Liquid-propellant Rockets

In 1919 the Smithsonian Institution published Goddard's monograph "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes," which he had submitted earlier to that organization with a request for research funds. The newspapers, seeing a casual reference to the moon and the prospect of hitting it with a rocket loaded with flash powder, pushed Goddard into the headlines. Being a reticent man as well as a dedicated physicist, he recoiled from the unwanted publicity and resisted further attempts by publications to present the subject.

During the decades of the 1920s and 1930s Goddard's research was supported by erratic and unpredictable funding from Clark University, the U.S. Navy, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Carnegie Foundation. From static testing of small solid-propellant rockets Goddard graduated to liquid-propellant motors. His long experimentation with solid-propellant rockets had by the early 1920s convinced him that the efficiency of such motors was simply too low ever to be of use in space travel. Indeed, by the early 1920s he had daringly mentioned liquid hydrogen (not then obtainable) and liquid oxygen, that is, nuclear and ionic propulsion for rockets.

Goddard's first liquid-propellant rocket was launched in 1926 from a farm near Auburn, Mass. Present on the occasion as photographer was the young Mrs. Esther Goddard, whom Goddard had married in 1924. The rocket reached an altitude of 41 feet and a range of 184 feet and traveled the distance in only 2 1/2 seconds. It was not a statistically impressive performance, but neither was that at Kitty Hawk, N. C., on Dec. 17, 1903.

Work in New Mexico

Needing more room and a milder outdoor climate for his experiments, Goddard moved to New Mexico, near Roswell, in 1930. His Mescalero Ranch was only 100 miles from the White Sands Missile Range. There, in a well-equipped machine shop, Goddard and a small team of assistants began work on the design and fabrication of liquid-propellant rockets that were the direct forebears of the Saturn 5 and Titan 3C space boosters of the 1960s.

The first launching in New Mexico took place in 1930. In 1932 a rocket with a gyroscopic stabilizer was flown. In that same year Goddard returned to Clark University because of the economic depression. During the succeeding 2 years at Clark he continued his research as well as he could and received several patents that grew out of his work in New Mexico.

After Goddard returned to the ranch, the rockets grew larger and flew higher. On March 31, 1935, a 15-foot-tall model reached an altitude of 7,500 feet under gyroscopic control. Goddard's research continued here until 1942. During these years he turned his attention to a high-speed turbopump for delivering the propellants to the combustion chamber of the motor. It was a component that had long held up his development of a really efficient rocket.

Return East

On May 28, 1940, Goddard met with officers of the U.S. Army Air Corps and Navy in Washington, D.C., to brief them on his rockets and their potential as weapons. In 1941 he finally received a small contract from the Army Air Corps and Navy to develop a liquid-propellant jet-assist-takeoff rocket for aircraft. In July 1942 he left Roswell to continue his research at the Navy Engineering Experimental Station at Annapolis, Md. There his experiments met with technical success, but an attempt to demonstrate the motor on an actual aircraft ended in failure and the loss of the plane. As rockets of all types, especially the V-1 and V-2, began making the headlines, Goddard received offers of jobs from many companies; he accepted the invitation from Curtiss-Wright, where he worked until his death on Aug. 10, 1945.

Further Reading

The Papers of Robert H. Goddard was edited by Esther C. Goddard and G. Edward Pendray (3 vols., 1970). The only full-length biography of Goddard is Milton Lehman, This High Man: The Life of Robert H. Goddard (1963). Anne Perkins Dewey, Robert Goddard, Space Pioneer (1962), is a biography for younger readers. For general reading on rocketry during the period in which Goddard figured prominently see Willy Ley, Rockets Missiles, and Men in Space (1952; rev. ed. 1968); Beryl Williams and Samuel Epstein, The Rocket Pioneers on the Road to Space (1955); and Wernher von Braun and Frederick I. Ordway III, History of Rocketry and Space Travel (1966). Useful books on astronautics in general include Frederick I. Ordway, James P. Gardner, and Mitchell R. Sharpe, Basic Astronautics: An Introduction to Space Science, Engineering, and Medicine (1962), and Mitchell R. Sharpe, Living in Space: The Astronaut and His Environment (1969). □

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Goddard, Robert Hutchings

(b. Worcester, Massachusetts, 5 October 1882; d. Baltimore, Maryland, 10 August 1945)

physics, rocket engineering.

After the advent of ballistic missiles and space exploration, Goddard became posthumously worldfamous as one of three scientific pioneers of rocketry. Like the Russian hero Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and the German pioneer Hermann Oberth, Goddard worked out the theory of rocket propulsion independently; and then almost alone he designed, built, tested, and flew the first liquid-fuel rocket on 16 March 1926 near Auburn, Massachusetts. Although Goddard seriously studied experimental physics throughout his life, whether teaching or doing applied research for the government, he began to dream of astronautics in 1899 and rocket engineering remained his prime preoccupation.

Raised by his old-line Yankee family in middleclass suburbs of Boston, Goddard was a studious child whose academic development was thwarted by ill health. He graduated from Worcester’s South High School in 1904 and from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1908. Beginning graduate work in physics immediately at nearby Clark University, he obtained the M.A. and Ph.D. there in 1910 and 1911, respectively. Under the tutelage of A. G. Webster, Goddard studied radio devices, particularly the thermionic valve, electromagnetism in solids, and both solid and liquid propulsion for reaction engines. Following a year’s research at Princeton (1912–1913), he returned to Clark to teach and rose to a full professorship by 1919.

Having explored the mathematical practicality of rocketry since 1906 and the experimental workability of reaction engines in laboratory vacuum tests since 1912, Goddard began to accumulate ideas for probing beyond the earth’s stratosphere. His first two patents in 1914, for a liquid-fuel gun rocket and a multistage step rocket, led to some modest recognition and financial support from the Smithsonian Institution. During World War I, Goddard led research on tube-launched rockets that became the bazookas of World War II, and during the latter war he worked primarily on jet-assisted takeoff (jato) and variable-thrust rockets for aircraft, barely living to see evidence of the German V-2 rockets and to hear of Hiroshima.

The publication in 1919 of his seminal paper “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes” gave Goddard distorted publicity because he had suggested that jet propulsion could be used to attain escape velocity and that this theory could be proved by crashing a flash-powder missile on the moon. Sensitive to criticism of his moon-rocket idea, he worked quietly and steadily toward the perfection of his rocket technology and techniques. With an eye toward patentability of demonstrated systems and with the aid of no more than a handful of technicians, Goddard achieved a series of workable liquid-fuel flights starting in 1926. Through the patronage of Charles A. Lindbergh, the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Foundation, and the Carnegie and Smithsonian institutions, the Goddards and their small staff were able to move near Roswell, New Mexico. There, during most of the 1930’s, Goddard demonstrated, despite many failures in his systematic static and flight tests, progressively more sophisticated experimental boosters and payloads, reaching speeds of 700 miles per hour and altitudes above 8,000 feet in several test flights. Among Goddard’s successful innovations were fuel-injection systems, regenerative cooling of combustion chambers, gyroscopic stabilization and control, instrumented payloads and recovery systems, guidance vanes in the exhaust plume, gimbaled and clustered engines, and aluminum fuel and oxidizer pumps.

Although his list of firsts in rocketry was distinguished, Goddard was eventually surpassed by teams of rocket research and development experts elsewhere, particularly in Germany. By temperament and training Goddard was not a team worker, yet he laid the foundation from which team workers could launch men to the moon. Early in the 1960’s the National Aeronautics and Space Administration named its first new physical facility at Greenbelt, Maryland, after Goddard; and the government awarded his estate one million dollars for all rights to the collection of over 200 Goddard patents.


I. Original Works. Goddard’s writings include “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes,” in Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 71 , no. 2 (1919), and “Liquid-Propellant Rocket Development,” ibid., 95 , no. 3 (1936), both reprinted in Goddard’s Rockets (New York, 1946). See also Rocket Development: Liquid-Fuel Rocket Research, 1929–1941, Esther C. Goddard and G. Edward Pendray, eds. (New York, 1948); “An Autobiography,” in Astronauties, 4 (Apr. 1959), 24–27, 106–109; and The Papers of Robert H. Goddard, Esther C. Goddard and G. Edward Pendray, eds., 3 vols. (New York, 1970), based on a voluminous MSS collection at Robert H. Goddard Memorial Library. Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts. Microfilm and artifacts of Goddard’s work are in the Goddard Wing of the Roswell, New Mexico, Museum and Art Center.

II. Secondary Literature. On Goddard or his work, see Wernher von Braun and Frederick I. Ordway, III, History of Rocketry and Space Travel, rev. ed. (New York, 1969), pp. 40–59; Eugene M. Emme, ed., The History of Rocket Technology (Detroit, 1964), pp. 19–28; Bessie Z. Jones, Lighthouses of the Skies: The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Background and History, 1846–1955 (Washington, D.C., 1965), pp. 241–276; Milton Lehman, This High Man: The Life of Robert H. Goddard (New York, 1963), the authorized biography; and Shirley Thomas, Men of Space: Profiles of the Leaders in Space Research, Development, and Exploration, I (Philadelphia, 1960), 23–46.

Loyd S. Swenson, Jr.

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Goddard, Robert Hutchings

American Inventor and Educator 1882-1945

Robert Hutchings Goddard was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on October 5, 1882. After reading science fiction as a boy, Goddard became excited about exploring space. He pioneered modern rocketry in the United States and founded a field of science and engineering. Goddard received a Ph.D. from Worcester Technical University in 1911 and joined the faculty at Clark University.

As a physics graduate student, Goddard conducted static tests with small solid-fuel rockets, and in 1912 he developed the mathematical theory of rocket propulsion. In 1916 the Smithsonian Institution provided funds for his work on rockets and in 1919 published his research as "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes." Goddard argued that rockets could be used to explore the upper atmosphere and suggested that with a velocity of 11.18 kilometers per second (6.95 miles/second), without air resistance, an object could escape Earth's gravity and head into infinity or to the Moon or other celestial bodies. This became known as Earth's escape velocity.

Goddard's ideas were ridiculed by some in the popular press, prompting him to become secretive about his work. However, he continued his research, and on March 16, 1926, Goddard launched his first liquid-fueled rocket, an event that heralded modern rocketry. On July 17, 1929, he flew the first instrumented payload , consisting of an aneroid barometer, a thermometer, and a camera. This was the first instrument-carrying rocket. After rising about 27 meters (90 feet), the rocket turned and struck the ground 52 meters (171 feet) away, causing a large fire.

Charles A. Lindbergh* visited Goddard and was sufficiently impressed to persuade philanthropist Daniel Guggenheim to award Goddard a grant of $50,000, with which Goddard set up an experiment station near Roswell, New Mexico. From 1930 to 1941 Goddard launched rockets of ever-greater complexity and capability. The culmination of this effort was the launch of a rocket to an altitude of 2,743 meters (9,000 feet) in 1941. Late in 1941 Goddard entered naval service and spent the duration of World War II developing a jet-assisted takeoff rocket to shorten the distance required for heavy aircraft launches. This work led to the development of the throttlable Curtiss-Wright XLR25-CW-1 rocket engine that later powered the Bell X-1 and helped overcome the transonic barrier in 1947. Goddard died in Baltimore on August 10, 1945.

see also Careers in Rocketry (volume 1); Rocket Engines (volume 1); Rockets (volume 3).

Roger D. Launius


Goddard, Esther C., ed., and G. Edward Pendray, associate ed. The Papers of Robert H. Goddard. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970.

Lehman, Milton. This High Man. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1963.

Winter, Frank H. Prelude to the Space Age: The Rocket Societies, 1924-1940. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983.

*In 1927 Charles A. Lindbergh became the first pilot to make a non-stop solo flight from New York to Paris.

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Robert Hutchings Goddard


American Physicist

Goddard was an early advocate of rocketry and space travel and is one of the principal inventors of the liquid fluid rocket. Beginning in 1926 he was able to launch a series of successful rockets, eventually obtaining modest financial support for his work. Many of the concepts developed by him are used in current rocket design. Goddard's contribution to rocket science was only belatedly acknowledged by the United States government.

Robert Goddard, the son of a bookkeeper and machine shop operator, spent his childhood in Worcester, Massachusetts, during the period of rapid industrialization that followed the American Civil War. His interest in the possibility of space travel was apparently kindled in 1898, when he read the serialized version of H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds that appeared in the Boston Post. He received his college education at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute and went on to earn a doctorate from Clark University, also in Worcester. Following a year conducting research at Princeton University, he returned to Clark, an institution with which he would remain associated throughout his career.

Goddard began testing some of his ideas in the laboratory in 1912, obtaining two patents in 1914. In 1919 he published a small booklet entitled "A Method of Reaching Extremely High Altitudes." Goddard was the first to develop a liquid fuel rocket engine, launching the first liquid-fueled rocket from his aunt's farm in 1926. Goddard's initial tests were funded by the Smithsonian Institution. A second test in 1929 carried a package of instruments to an even greater height, but also attracted the attention of the police. Local authorities forbade further rocket testing in Massachusetts.

At this point the famous aviator Charles A. Lindbergh (1902-1974) came to Goddard's aid. Lindbergh persuaded the philanthropist Daniel Guggenheim to make a grant of $50,000 to Goddard. Goddard began a new series of tests at Roswell, New Mexico, with his rockets attaining an altitude of over 2 km (1.25 mi) by 1935. Goddard was unable, however, to interest the American military in the development of rocketry. During World War II, he received a small government stipend to perfect a small-scale rocket weapon, the bazooka, that he had designed during the First World War, and to work on rocket-assisted aircraft launches for the Navy.

Goddard's early interest in space flight was matched in Germany by Hermann Oberth (1984-1989), and in Russia by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935). All three worked independently, obtaining many of the same theoretical results, although by 1925 Oberth had begun to correspond with the other rocket researchers. While Goddard had been the first to experiment with liquid fuel rockets, the German rocket enthusiasts, with the support of the Nazi regime, were the first to extensively develop rockets, the V-1 and V-2, for military use. When, at the end of the Second World War, American agents interviewed captured German rocket scientists, they were surprised to learn just how much of the German rocket technology had been based on Goddard's ideas. The American government subsequently paid Goddard's estate one million dollars for the rights to use Goddard's more than 200 patents. Goddard's contribution to space exploration is commemorated in the Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.


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Goddard, Robert Hutchings (1882–1945) US physicist and pioneer in rocket development. Goddard developed and launched (1926) the first liquid-fuelled rocket, and produced the first smokeless powder rocket and the first automatic steering for rockets.

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