Monday, October 5, 2009

October 5: Robert Goddard

Robert Hutchings Goddard
October 5, 1882 – August 10, 1945

Robert Goddard, U.S. professor of physics and scientist, was a pioneer of controlled, liquid-fueled rocketry. He launched the world's first liquid-fueled rocket on March 16, 1926. From 1930 to 1935, he launched rockets that attained speeds of up to 885 km/h (550 mph). Though his work in the field was revolutionary, he was sometimes ridiculed for his theories.

Goddard received little scientific support during his lifetime. Eventually, however, he became recognized — along with Tsiolkovsky and Oberth — as one of the fathers of modern rocketry. He was the first not only to recognize the scientific potential behind missiles and space travel but also to bring about the physical design and construction of those ideas.

In 1919, the Smithsonian Institution published Goddard's groundbreaking work, A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes. The report describes Goddard's mathematical theories of rocket flight, his experiments with solid-fuel rockets, and the possibilities he saw of exploring the earth's atmosphere and beyond. Along with Konstantin Tsiolkovsky's earlier work, The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices (1903), Goddard's little book is regarded as one of the pioneering works of the science of rocketry. It was distributed worldwide and is believed to have influenced the work of subsequent pioneers such as Hermann Oberth and Wernher von Braun in Germany and Sergey Korolev in the USSR.

Goddard began experimenting with liquid oxygen and liquid-fueled rockets in September 1921, and bench tested the first liquid-fueled engine in November 1923. It had a cylindrical combustion chamber, using impinging jets to mix and atomize liquid oxygen and gasoline.

He launched the first liquid-fueled rocket on March 16, 1926 in Auburn, Massachusetts. His journal entry of the event was notable for its laconic understatement: "The first flight with a rocket using liquid propellants was made yesterday at Aunt Effie's farm." The rocket, which was dubbed "Nell", rose just 41 feet during a 2.5-second flight that ended in a cabbage field, but it was an important demonstration that liquid propellants were possible. The launch site is now a National Historic Landmark, the Goddard Rocket Launching Site.

Goddard was awarded 214 patents for his work, 83 of which came during his lifetime.

The Goddard Space Flight Center was established in 1959. The crater Goddard on the Moon is also named in his honor.

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