Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dr. Robert H. Goddard with his 1926 rocket

Robert H. Goddard First liquid fueled rocket launched Mar 16, 1926

Goddard registered more than 200 patents related to rockets. His most important experimental breakthrough came in 1926, when he built and tested the first successful liquid-fueled rocket. On March 16, in a field near Worcester, Massachusetts, his rocket flew for just 2.5 seconds and rose to a height of only 41 feet, but it proved that liquid-fueled rockets worked. Eventually he needed a larger area to safely launch rockets, and Goddard moved his research to Roswell, N.M., in 1930.

There, Goddard and a small team of assistants built rockets which used high-speed pumps to deliver fuel to rocket engines, another fundamental idea still in use today. His most significant effort in New Mexico came in 1941, when one of his rockets rose to a height of 9,000 feet. After the U.S. entered WWII, Goddard tried to convince the military of the potential value of rockets, but the government saw no usefulness to the war effort in his research. Disappointed, Goddard instead went to the U.S. Navy to work on jet-assisted takeoff rockets for aircraft, and to develop a "throttleable" rocket engine.

Goddard's ideas established several fundamentals of modern rocketry and space flight. Along with his mathematical calculations establishing the idea of "escape velocity" (the speed required to break away from earth's gravitational pull), Goddard proved that rockets would provide thrust in a vacuum, that is, they would work outside of the earth's atmosphere.

In addition to building and launching the first liquid-fueled rocket, Goddard also was the first to put scientific instruments on a rocket. Among his other inventions was the concept of using gyroscopes to stabilize rockets, and steering rockets by using moveable vanes to deflect exhaust gas. Goddard also pioneered "film cooling" using a rocket's liquid fuel to cool the engine and keep it from melting. This key technical feature can be seen in the German V-2 and many other modern rocket engines, some developed in the U.S. after WW II in part by the same German engineers who were influenced by Goddard's pre-war work.

Dr. Robert H. Goddard with his 1926 rocket

Dr. Goddard with his 1926 rocket, the first liquid-fueled rocket. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Goddard was not credited for his pioneering work until after his death in 1945 at age 62. In 1959 Congress recognized him with a gold medal, and only then was he rightly honored as the "father of space flight." That same year, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), named the Goddard Space Flight Center, Md., in his honor. In 1960 the government awarded his estate $1 million for the use of his many rocket patents.

Finally, the New York Times -- having famously ridiculed Goddard's intellect in 1920 -- admitted it was wrong after Apollo 11 lifted off on its way to the moon in 1969.

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TEXT CREDIT: National Museum of the USAF

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