Dr. Robert Hutchings Goddard, considered by many to be the father of modern rocketry, was a physicist of great insight who had a genius for invention. Along with Konstantin Tsiolkovsky of Russia and Hermann Oberth of Germany, Goddard envisioned the exploration of space.
Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, Goddard graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in 1908 and remained at his alma mater as a physics instructor. That same year he began graduate work in physics at Clark University and received his Master's and Doctorate degrees in 1910 and 1911, respectively. In 1912, Goddard became a research fellow at Princeton University and in 1913 developed the mathematical theory of rocket propulsion. The following year he joined the faculty at Clark University. In 1915, he proved that rocket engines could produce thrust in a vacuum, therefore making space flight a practical goal. Goddard became a full professor at Clark in 1919.
Goddard first obtained public notoriety in 1907 when he fired a powder rocket in the basement of the physics building at WPI. School officials then took an immediate interest in Goddard's work and, to their credit, did not expel him for the incident.
In 1914, Goddard received two U.S. patents, one for a rocket that used liquid fuel, the other for a two- or three-stage rocket using solid fuel. At his own expense, he began to make systematic studies about propulsion provided by various types of gunpowder. This work resulted in his classic study in 1916 requesting funds from the Smithsonian Institution to continue his research. This was published along with his subsequent research in the Smithsonian Miscellaneous Publication No. 2540 (January 1920) entitled "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes." In this treatise, he detailed a search for methods of raising weather-recording instruments higher than sounding balloons.
In this 1920 publication, Goddard outlined the possibility of a rocket reaching the moon and exploding a load of flash powder on its surface to mark the rocket's arrival. The bulk of his scientific report to the Smithsonian was a dry explanation of how he used the $5000 grant in his research. The press picked up Goddard' s proposal about a rocket flight to the moon and sparked a journalistic controversy concerning the feasibility of such a concept. Goddard was widely ridiculed, causing him to deeply resent the press corps, a view that he held for the rest of his life.
By 1926, Goddard had constructed and successfully tested the first liquid-fueled rocket. The flight of Goddard's rocket on March 16,1926, at Auburn, Massachusetts, was a historic feat. It was one of Goddard's "firsts" in the now booming field of rocket propulsion in military missilery and the scientific exploration of space.
greatest engineering contributions were made during
his work in the 1920's and 1930's (see list of historic firsts). By 1927 he had received a total of $10,000 from the Smithsonian Institution, and through the personal efforts of Charles Lindbergh, he subsequently received
financial support from the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Foundation.
Progress on all of his work appeared in "Liquid Propellant Rocket
Development," which was published by the Smithsonian in 1936.
Goddard's work was virtually ignored in the United States and made little impression upon government officials. Ironically, his rocket designs (including gyroscopic control, steering by means of vanes in the jet stream of the rocket motor, gimbal steering, power-driven fuel pumps) shared many similarities with those developed by German rocket engineers during the 1930's and World War II. Thus, many people assumed that the Germans had used copies of Goddard's work in their development of the V-2 rocket. However, Goddard's secrecy had prevented the Germans from learning much about his work, and the similarity of design was mostly coincidence. It was not until after the war that Goddard's work was widely published.
From 1917 to 1918, Goddard developed the basis for a rocket-propelled weapon, now known as the bazooka. Using a music stand as his launching platform, he successfully demonstrated the idea at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland before representatives of the U.S. Armed Services. Dr. Clarence N. Hickman, a young Ph.D. from Clark University, worked with Goddard in 1918 and continued his research that produced the World War II bazooka. In World War II, Goddard was assigned by the U.S. Navy to develop practical jet-assisted takeoff and liquid propellant rocket motors capable of variable thrust. He was successful in both ventures.
Goddard died on August 10, 1945. At the time of his death, Goddard held 214 patents in rocketry.
Goddard was the first scientist to realize the potential of missiles and space flight and to contribute directly in bringing them to realization. The dedicated labors of this modest man went largely unrecognized in the U.S. until the dawn of what is now called the "Space Age." High honors and wide acclaim, belated but richly deserved, now come to the name of Robert H. Goddard.
In memory of this brilliant scientist, a major space and earth science laboratory, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, was established on May 1, 1959. Later that year on September 16, Congress authorized the issuance of a gold medal in honor of Professor Robert H. Goddard.
1912: First to explore mathematically the practicality of using rocket propulsion to reach high altitudes and even the moon
"Goddard, Robert Hutchings," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000