Robert Goddard

Launch from Roswell, New MexicoGoddard's 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.

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On the Shoulders of Giants
Robert Goddard
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Top left: Rocket launch from Roswell, New Mexico. Goddard picked the site because it had mild weather, flat ground, and a low population. (Photograph courtesy Roswell Museum and Art Center)