of liquid-fueled rockets
Robert Hutchings Goddard was
born in Worcester, Massachusetts,
on October 5, 1882. He first became interested in
science as a child, when his father showed him
how to generate static electricity on the carpet.
When he was 16 he tried to construct a balloon
from aluminum, but abandoned the project after
nearly five weeks of work. His interest in space
began at the same time, after he read War of
the Worlds, by H.G. Wells.
After graduating from South
High School in Worcester, Goddard enrolled at
Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he quickly
impressed the head of the physics department, A.
Wilmer Duff, who hired him on as a laboratory
assistant and tutor. While still an
undergraduate, Goddard wrote a paper proposing a
method for "balancing aeroplanes," and
submitted the idea to Scientific American,
which published the paper in 1907. He received
his Bachelor of Science degree in Physics in
1908, and then enrolled at Clark University in
the fall of that year. His first writing on the
possibility of a liquid-fueled rocket came in
February 1909. He received his Master of Arts
degree in 1910, and then completed his Doctor of
Philosophy in 1911. He stayed for another year at
Clark as an honorary fellow in physics, and in
1912, he accepted a research fellowship at
In early 1913, Goddard was
stricken by tuberculosis and forced to leave
Princeton; he returned to Worcester, where he
began a prolonged period of recovery. It was
during this recuperative period that Goddard
began his most important work. On July 7, 1914,
he received a patent for a multi-stage rocket; on
July 14, 1914, he received a patent for a rocket
fueled with gasoline and liquid nitrous oxide.
By the fall of 1914, Goddard's
health had improved enough for him to accept a
part-time teaching position at Clark University.
By 1916, his rocket research had become too
expensive for his teaching salary to support, so
he began soliciting financial assistance from
outside sponsors; the Smithsonian Institution was
the first to provide such help, agreeing to a
five-year grant totaling $5,000. In 1919, the
Smithsonian Institution published A Method of
Reaching Extreme Altitudes, in which Goddard
explained his mathematical theories of rocket
flight, his research in solid-fuel and
liquid-fuel rockets, and the possibilities of
Goddard launched his first liquid-fueled
rocket from Auburn, Massachusetts, on March 16,
1926. The rocket, which he dubbed
"Nell," rose just 41 feet during a
2.5-second flight, but it successfully
demonstrated that liquid-fuel propellants were
In July 1929, Goddard's
research came to the attention of aviation
pioneer Charles A. Lindbergh, who had begun to wonder what would
become of aviation in the distant future.
Lindbergh contacted Goddard in November of that
year, and by the end of the year Lindbergh was
attempting to use his name to help secure funding
for Goddard's research. Lindbergh eventually
found an ally in Daniel Guggenheim, who agreed to
fund Goddard's research over the next four years
for a total of $100,000. The Guggenheim family
would continue to support Goddard's work in the
years to follow.
neighbors had become increasingly alarmed at his
rockets flying over their heads, and Goddard
himself desired more open space in which to carry
out his work. With financial backing now in
place, he eventually relocated to Roswell, New Mexico,
where he worked in near isolation for a dozen
years. Although he brought his work in rocketry
to the attention of the United States Army, he
was constantly rebuffed, as the Army failed to
grasp the military application of rockets.
Nazi Germany, however, did take
an interest in Goddard's research. Wernher von
Braun relied on Goddard's plans when he developed
the V-2 rockets during World War II.
Before war actually broke out, German scientists
even contacted Goddard directly with technical
questions. During the war, a German agent even
managed to infiltrate Goddard's "inner
circle" and leak information to the Germans.
After the Army declined his
offer to develop rockets, Goddard gave up his
preferred field to work on experimental aircraft
for the U.S. Navy. After the war, Goddard was
able to inspect captured German V-2's, many
components of which he recognized. However,
Goddard never designed nor built another rocket
of his own.
Robert H. Goddard died in
Baltimore, Maryland, of throat cancer, on August
10, 1945. He is buried in Hope Cemetery,
Goddard was awarded a total
of 214 patents for his work, 83 of which he
received during his lifetime.
The Goddard Space Flight
Center, established in 1959, is named in his
honor, as is Goddard Crater, on the Moon.
Goddard is also the
namesake for: the Goddard School of Science and
Technology, an elementary school in Worcester,
established in 1992; the Goddard Library at Clark
University; Goddard Hall at Worcester Polytechnic
Institute, the home of the Institute's Chemical
Engineering Department; and, the Robert H.
Goddard High School in Roswell, New Mexico.
World War II
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