ROBERT GODDARD (1882-1945)

1915 – USA

‘Demonstrates that rocket engines can produce thrust in a vacuum’

‘Robert Goddard stands as the epitome of the early American desire to conquer space’

It was generally believed that it would be impossible for a rocket to move outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, as there was nothing for it to push against in order to gain propulsion. Goddard had already gone a long way to revoking this assumption by 1907 in completing calculations to show that a rocket could thrust in a vacuum, and had backed up this concept with physical experiment in 1915.

His booklet “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes” described the multi-stage principle and presented advanced ideas on how to improve the performance of solid-fuel rockets.

‘I have read very attentively your remarkable book A Method for Reaching Extreme Altitudes edited in 1919 and I have found in it quite all the ideas which the German Professor H.Oberth published in 1924′ (in a letter from Soviet engineer & author Nikolai Alexsevitch Rynin)

In 1926 he launched the world’s first liquid-fuelled rocket using gasoline and liquid oxygen; the 2.5 second, 41 feet flight proved that liquid-fuel propellants could be used to power a rocket instead of exploding in a catastrophic detonation.
Over the next decade, Goddard filed patents for guidance, control and fuel pump mechanisms.

In spite of his success ( by 1935 he had launched a rocket at Roswell, New Mexico which traveled faster than the speed of sound and another which achieved an altitude of 1.7 miles, then a record ) the US Government largely ignored his efforts until the space race gathered momentum in the 1940s and 1950s. The government was eventually forced to pay one million dollars to Goddard’s widow for patent infringement in acknowledgement of the use they had made of his designs as a basis from which to begin development.

Logo of the Goddard Space Center

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