Hutchings Goddard (October 5, 1882 August 10, 1945)
was an American professor, physicist, and inventor who is
credited with creating and building the world's first liquid-fueled
rocket, which he successfully launched on March 16, 1926.
Goddard and his team launched 34 rockets between 1926 and
1941, achieving altitudes as high as 2.6 km (1.6 mi) and
speeds as high as 885 km/h (550 mph).
work as both theorist and engineer anticipated many of
the developments that were to make spaceflight possible.
Two inventions of Goddard's 214 patented a multi-stage
rocket (1914), and a liquid-fuel rocket (1914)
were important milestones toward spaceflight. His 1919
monograph A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes is considered
one of the classic texts of 20th-century rocket science.
Goddard successfully applied three-axis control, gyroscopes
and steerable thrust to rockets, to effectively control
his work in the field was revolutionary, Goddard received
little public support for his research. The press sometimes
ridiculed his theories of spaceflight. As a result, he
became protective of his privacy and his work. Years after
his death, at the dawn of the Space Age, he came to be
recognized as the founding father of modern rocketry.
He not only recognized the potential of rockets for atmospheric
research, ballistic missiles and space travel but was
the first to scientifically study, design and construct
the rockets needed to implement those ideas.
life and inspiration
was born in 1882 in Worcester, Massachusetts, to Nahum
Danford Goddard (18591928) and Fannie Louise Hoyt
(18641920). Robert was their only child to survive;
a younger son, Richard Henry, was born with a spinal deformity,
and died before his first birthday. His was an old New
England family, and he inherited the traits of determination
and mechanical ability. A country boy, he loved the outdoors
and became an excellent marksman with a rifle.
the introduction of electric power in American cities
in the 1880s, the young Goddard became interested in science
specifically, engineering and technology. When
his father showed him how to generate static electricity
on the family's carpet, the five-year-old's imagination
was fired. Robert experimented, believing he could jump
higher if the zinc in batteries could somehow be charged
with static electricity. Goddard halted the experiments
after a warning from his mother that if he succeeded,
he could "go sailing away and might not be able to
come back." He experimented with chemicals and created
a cloud of smoke and an explosion in the house. Goddard's
father further encouraged Robert's scientific interest
by providing him with a telescope, a microscope, and a
subscription to Scientific American. Robert developed
a fascination with flight, first with kites and then with
balloons. He became a thorough diarist and documenter
of his work a skill that would greatly benefit
his later career. These interests merged at age 16, when
Goddard attempted to construct a balloon out of aluminum,
shaping the raw metal in his home workshop. After nearly
five weeks of methodical, documented efforts, he finally
abandoned the project, remarking, "Failior [sic]
crowns enterprise." However, the lesson of this failure
did not restrain Goddard's growing determination and confidence
in his work.
cherry tree dream
became interested in space when he read H. G. Wells' science
fiction classic The War of the Worlds when he was 16 years
old. His dedication to pursuing space flight became fixed
on October 19, 1899. The 17-year-old Goddard climbed a
cherry tree to cut off dead limbs. He was transfixed by
the sky, and his imagination grew. He later wrote:
"On this day I climbed a tall cherry tree at the
back of the barn
and as I looked toward the fields
at the east, I imagined how wonderful it would be to make
some device which had even the possibility of ascending
to Mars, and how it would look on a small scale, if sent
up from the meadow at my feet. I have several photographs
of the tree, taken since, with the little ladder I made
to climb it, leaning against it.
It seemed to me then that a weight whirling around a horizontal
shaft, moving more rapidly above than below, could furnish
lift by virtue of the greater centrifugal force at the
top of the path.
was a different boy when I descended the tree from when
I ascended. Existence at last seemed very purposive."
the rest of his life he observed October 19 as "Anniversary
Day," a private commemoration of the day of his greatest
and early studies
young Goddard was a thin and frail boy, almost always
in fragile health. He suffered from stomach problems,
pleurisy, colds and bronchitis, and fell two years behind
his classmates. He became a voracious reader, regularly
visiting the local public library to borrow books on the
interest in aerodynamics led him to study some of Samuel
Langley's scientific papers in the periodical Smithsonian.
In these papers, Langley wrote that birds flap their wings
with different force on each side to turn in the air.
Inspired by these articles, the teenage Goddard watched
swallows and chimney swifts from the porch of his home,
noting how subtly the birds moved their wings to control
their flight. He noted how remarkably the birds controlled
their flight with their tail feathers, which he called
the birds' equivalent of ailerons. He took exception to
some of Langley's conclusions, and in 1901 wrote a letter
to St. Nicholas magazine with his own ideas. The editor
of St. Nicholas declined to publish Goddard's letter,
remarking that birds fly with a certain amount of intelligence
and that "machines will not act with such intelligence."
Goddard disagreed, believing that a man could control
a flying machine with his own intelligence.
this time, Goddard read Newton's Principia Mathematica,
and found that Newton's Third Law of Motion applied to
motion in space. He wrote later about his own tests of
"I began to realize that there might be something
after all to Newton's Laws. The Third Law was accordingly
tested, both with devices suspended by rubber bands and
by devices on floats, in the little brook back of the
barn, and the said law was verified conclusively. It made
me realize that if a way to navigate space were to be
discovered, or invented, it would be the result of a knowledge
of physics and mathematics."
his health improved, Goddard continued his formal schooling
as an 19-year-old sophomore at South High School in Worcester
in 1901. He excelled in his coursework, and his peers
twice elected him class president. Making up for lost
time, he studied books on mathematics, astronomy, mechanics
and composition from the school library. At his graduation
ceremony in 1904, he gave his class oration as valedictorian.
In his speech, entitled "On Taking Things for Granted,"
Goddard included a section that would become emblematic
of his life:
"[J]ust as in the sciences we have learned that
we are too ignorant to safely pronounce anything impossible,
so for the individual, since we cannot know just what
are his limitations, we can hardly say with certainty
that anything is necessarily within or beyond his grasp.
Each must remember that no one can predict to what heights
of wealth, fame, or usefulness he may rise until he has
honestly endeavored, and he should derive courage from
the fact that all sciences have been, at some time, in
the same condition as he, and that it has often proved
true that the dream of yesterday is the hope of today
and the reality of tomorrow."
enrolled at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1904. He
quickly impressed the head of the physics department,
A. Wilmer Duff, with his thirst for knowledge, and Professor
Duff took him on as a laboratory assistant and tutor.
At WPI, Goddard joined the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity,
and began a long courtship with high school classmate
Miriam Olmstead, an honor student who had graduated with
him as salutatorian. Eventually, she and Goddard were
engaged, but they drifted apart and ended the engagement
received his B.S. degree in physics from Worcester Polytechnic
in 1908, and after serving there for a year as an instructor
in physics, he began his graduate studies at Clark University
in Worcester in the fall of 1909. Goddard received his
M.A. degree in physics from Clark University in 1910,
and then stayed at Clark to complete his Ph.D. in physics
in 1911. He spent another year at Clark as an honorary
fellow in physics, and in 1912, he accepted a research
fellowship at Princeton University's Palmer Physical Laboratory.
high school student summed up his ideas on space travel
in a proposed article, "The Navigation of Space,"
which he submitted to the Popular Science News. The journal's
editor returned it, saying that they could not use it
"in the near future."
still an undergraduate, Goddard wrote a paper proposing
a method for balancing aeroplanes using gyro-stabilization.
He submitted the idea to Scientific American, which published
the paper in 1907. Goddard later wrote in his diaries
that he believed his paper was the first proposal of a
way to automatically stabilize aircraft in flight. His
proposal came around the same time as other scientists
were making breakthroughs in developing functional gyroscopes.
first writing on the possibility of a liquid-fueled rocket
came on February 2, 1909. Goddard had begun to study ways
of increasing a rocket's efficiency using methods differing
from conventional, powder rockets. He wrote in his journal
about using liquid hydrogen as a fuel with liquid oxygen
as the oxidizer. He believed that 50 percent efficiency
could be achieved with these liquid propellants.
the decades around 1910, radio was a new technology, a
fertile field for innovation. In 1911, while working at
Clark University, Goddard investigated the effects of
radio waves on insulators. In order to generate radio-frequency
power, he invented a vacuum tube that operated like a
cathode-ray tube. U.S. Patent 1,159,209 was issued on
November 2, 1915. This was the first use of a vacuum tube
to amplify a signal, preceding even Lee de Forest's claim.
1913 he had in his spare time, using calculus, developed
the mathematics which allowed him to calculate the position
and velocity of a rocket in vertical flight, given the
weight of the rocket and weight of the propellant and
the velocity of the exhaust gases. His first goal was
to build a sounding rocket with which to study the atmosphere.
He was very reluctant to admit that his ultimate goal
was in fact to develop a vehicle for flights into space,
since most scientists, especially in the United States,
did not consider such a goal to be a realistic or practical
scientific pursuit, nor was the public yet ready to seriously
consider such ideas. Later, in 1933, Goddard said that
"In no case must we allow ourselves to be deterred
from the achievement of space travel, test by test and
step by step, until one day we succeed, cost what it may."
in early 1913, Goddard became seriously ill with tuberculosis,
and had to leave his position at Princeton. He then returned
to Worcester, where he began a prolonged process of recovery.
His doctors did not expect him to live, but Goddard's
dreams of spaceflight helped him persevere; he was also
worried that no one would otherwise be able to decipher
the handwriting in his notebooks. He spent time outside
in the fresh air, walked for exercise and gradually improved.
was during this period of recuperation, however, that
Goddard began to produce some of his most important work.
As his symptoms subsided, he allowed himself to work an
hour per day with his notes made at Princeton. In the
technological and manufacturing of Worcester, patents
were considered essential, not only to protect original
work, but as documentation of first discovery. He began
to see the importance of his ideas as intellectual property,
and thus began to secure those ideas before someone else
didand he would have to pay to use them. In May
1913, he wrote concerning his first rocket patent applications.
His father brought them to a patent firm in Worcester,
who helped him to refine his ideas for consideration.
Goddard's first patent application was submitted in October
1914, his first two landmark patents were accepted and
registered. The first, U.S. Patent 1,102,653, described
a multi-stage rocket. The second, U.S. Patent 1,103,503,
described a rocket fueled with gasoline and liquid nitrous
oxide. The two patents would eventually become important
milestones in the history of rocketry. Overall, he published
214 patents, some posthumously by his wife.
the fall of 1914, Goddard's health had improved, and he
accepted a part-time position as an instructor and research
fellow at Clark University.
position at Clark allowed him to further his rocketry
research. He ordered numerous supplies that could be used
to build rocket prototypes for launch, and spent much
of 1915 in preparation for his first tests.
first test launch of a powder rocket came on an early
evening in 1915 following his daytime classes at Clark.
The launch was loud and bright enough to arouse the alarm
of the campus janitor, and Goddard had to reassure him
that his experiments, while being serious study, were
also quite harmless. After this incident, Goddard took
his experiments inside the physics lab, in order to limit
the Clark physics lab, Goddard conducted static tests
of powder rockets to measure their thrust efficiency.
He found his earlier estimates to be verified; powder
rockets were converting only about 2 percent of their
fuel into thrust. At this point, he applied de Laval nozzles,
which were generally used with steam turbine engines,
and these greatly improved thrust efficiency. By mid-summer
of 1915, Goddard had obtained an average thrust efficiency
of 40 percent with nozzle velocities of 2051 meters per
second. Connecting a combustion chamber full of gunpowder
to various converging-diverging expansion nozzles, Goddard
was able in static tests to achieve engine efficiencies
of more than 63% and exhaust velocities of over 7000 feet
(2134 meters) per second. Few would recognize it at the
time, but this little engine was a major breakthrough.
These experiments suggested that rockets could be made
powerful enough to escape Earth and travel into space.
This engine, and subsequent experiments sponsored by the
Smithsonian Institution, were the beginning of modern
rocketry and, ultimately, space exploration. Goddard realized,
however, that it would take the more efficient liquid
propellants to reach space.
that year, Goddard designed an elaborate experiment at
the Clark physics lab and proved that a rocket would perform
in a vacuum such as that in space. He believed it would,
but many other scientists were not yet convinced. His
experiment demonstrated that a rocket's performance actually
decreases under atmospheric pressure.
1916 to 1917, Goddard built and tested experimental ion
thrusters, which he thought might be used for propulsion
in the near-vacuum conditions of outer space. The small
glass engines he built were tested at atmospheric pressure,
where they generated a stream of ionized air.
1916, the cost of Goddard's rocket research had become
too great for his modest teaching salary to bear. He began
to solicit potential sponsors for financial assistance,
beginning with the Smithsonian Institution, the National
Geographic Society, and the Aero Club of America.
his letter to the Smithsonian in September 1916, Goddard
claimed he had achieved a 63% thrust efficiency and a
nozzle velocity of almost 2438 meters per second. With
these performance standards, he believed a rocket could
lift a weight of 0.45 kg to a height of 373 km with an
initial launch weight of only 40.64 kg.
Smithsonian was interested, and asked Goddard to elaborate
upon his initial inquiry. Goddard responded with a detailed
manuscript he had already prepared, entitled A Method
of Reaching Extreme Altitudes.
January 1917, the Smithsonian agreed to provide Goddard
with a five-year grant totaling 5000 USD. Afterward, Clark
was able to contribute 3500 USD and the use of their physics
lab to the project. Worcester Polytechnic Institute also
allowed him to use its abandoned Magnetics Laboratory
on the edge of campus during this time, as a safe place
wasn't until two years later, at the insistence of Dr.
Arthur G. Webster, the world-renowned head of Clark's
physics department, that Goddard arranged for the Smithsonian
to publish his work.
at Clark University, Goddard did research into solar power
using a dish to concentrate the sun's rays on a machined
piece of quartz that was sprayed with mercury which then
heated water and drove a generator at the dish. Goddard
believed his invention had overcome all the obstacles
that had previously defeated other scientists and inventors,
and he had his findings published in the November 1929
issue of Popular Science.
all of Goddard's early work was geared towards space travel.
As the United States entered World War I in 1917, the
country's universities began to lend their services to
the war effort. Goddard believed his rocket research could
be applied to many different military applications, including
mobile artillery, field weapons and naval torpedoes. He
made proposals to the Navy and Army. No record exists
of any interest by the Navy to Goddard's inquiry. However,
Army Ordnance was quite interested, and Goddard met several
times with Army personnel.
this time, Goddard was also contacted by a civilian industrialist
in Worcester about the possibility of manufacturing rockets
for the military. However, as the businessman's enthusiasm
grew, so did Goddard's suspicion. Talks eventually broke
down as Goddard began to fear his work might be appropriated
by the business. However, an Army Signal Corps officer
tried to make Goddard cooperate, but he was called off
by General George Squier of the Signal Corps who had been
contacted by Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution,
Charles Walcott. Goddard became leery of working with
corporations and was careful to secure patents to "protect
his ideas." These events led to the Signal Corps
sponsoring Goddard's work during World War I.
proposed to the Army an idea for a tube-based rocket launcher
as a light infantry weapon. The launcher concept became
the precursor to the bazooka. The rocket-powered recoil-free
weapon was the brainchild of Dr. Goddard as a side project
(under Army contract) of his work on rocket propulsion.
Goddard, during his tenure at Clark University, and working
at Mount Wilson Observatory for security reasons, designed
a tube-fired rocket for military use during World War
I. He and his co-worker, Dr. Clarence Hickman, successfully
demonstrated his rocket to the U.S. Army Signal Corps
at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, on November 6, 1918,
using two music stands for a launch platform, but the
Compiègne Armistice was signed only five days later,
and further development was discontinued as World War
delay in the development of the bazooka and other weapons
was a result of Goddard's serious bout with tuberculosisthe
long recovery required. Goddard continued to be a part-time
consultant to the U.S. Government at Indian Head, Maryland,
until 1923, but his focus had turned to other research
involving rocket propulsion, including work with liquid
fuels and liquid oxygen.
the former Clark University researcher, Dr. Clarence Hickman,
and Army officers Col. Leslie Skinner and Lt. Edward Uhl
continued Goddard's work on the bazooka. A shaped-charge
warhead was attached to the rocket, leading to the tank-killing
weapon used in World War II and to many other powerful
Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes
1919, Goddard thought that it would be premature to disclose
the results of his experiments, that his engine was not
sufficiently developed. Dr. Webster realized that Goddard
had accomplished a good deal of fine work and insisted
that Goddard publish his progress so far or he would take
care of it himself. So Goddard asked the Smithsonian Institution
if it would publish the report he had submitted in late
late 1919, the Smithsonian 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. (which was not widely disseminated), Goddard's little
book is regarded as one of the pioneering works of the
science of rocketry, and 1750 copies were distributed
described extensive experiments with solid-fuel rocket
engines burning high grade nitrocellulose smokeless powder.
A critical breakthrough was the use of the steam turbine
nozzle invented by the Swedish inventor Gustaf de Laval.
The de Laval nozzle allows the most efficient (isentropic)
conversion of the energy of hot gases into forward motion.
By means of this nozzle, Goddard increased the efficiency
of his rocket engines from 2 percent to 64 percent and
obtained supersonic exhaust velocities of over Mach 7.
most of this work dealt with the theoretical and experimental
relations between propellant, rocket mass, thrust, and
velocity, a final section, entitled "Calculation
of minimum mass required to raise one pound to an 'infinite'
altitude", discussed the possible uses of rockets,
not only to reach the upper atmosphere, but to escape
from Earth's gravitation altogether. He determined that
a rocket with an effective exhaust velocity (see Specific
impulse) of 7000 feet per second and an initial weight
of 602 pounds would be able to send a one-pound payload
to an infinite height. Included as a thought experiment
was the idea of launching a rocket to the moon and igniting
a mass of flash powder on its surface, so as to be visible
through a telescope. He discussed the matter seriously,
down to an estimate of the amount of powder required;
Goddard's conclusion was that a rocket with starting mass
of 3.21 tons could produce a flash "just visible"
from Earth, assuming a final payload weight of 10.7 pounds.
eschewed publicity, because he did not have time to reply
to criticism of his work, and his imaginative ideas about
space travel were shared only with private groups he trusted.
He did, though, publish and talk about the rocket principle
and sounding rockets, since these subjects were not too
"far out." In a letter to the Smithsonian, dated
March 1920, he discussed: photographing the Moon and planets
from rocket-powered fly-by probes, sending messages to
distant civilizations on inscribed metal plates, the use
of solar energy in space, and the idea of high-velocity
ion propulsion. In that same letter, Goddard clearly describes
the concept of the ablative heat shield, suggesting the
landing apparatus be covered with "layers of a very
infusible hard substance with layers of a poor heat conductor
between" designed to erode in the same way as the
surface of a meteor.
publication of Goddard's document gained him national
attention from U.S. newspapers, most of it negative. Although
Goddard's discussion of targeting the moon was only a
small part of the work as a whole and was intended as
an illustration of the possibilities rather than a declaration
of intent, the papers sensationalized his ideas to the
point of misrepresentation and ridicule. Even the Smithsonian
had to abstain from publicity because of the amount of
ridiculous correspondence received from the general public.
David Lasser, who co-founded the American Rocket Society,
wrote in 1931 that Goddard was subjected in the press
to the "most violent attacks."
January 12, 1920, a front-page story in The New York Times,
"Believes Rocket Can Reach Moon", reported a
Smithsonian press release about a "multiple-charge,
high-efficiency rocket." The chief application envisaged
was "the possibility of sending recording apparatus
to moderate and extreme altitudes within the Earth's atmosphere",
the advantage over balloon-carried instruments being ease
of recovery, since "the new rocket apparatus would
go straight up and come straight down." But it also
mentioned a proposal "to [send] to the dark part
of the new moon a sufficiently large amount of the most
brilliant flash powder which, in being ignited on impact,
would be plainly visible in a powerful telescope. This
would be the only way of proving that the rocket had really
left the attraction of the earth, as the apparatus would
never come back, once it had escaped that attraction."
New York Times editorial
January 13, the day after its front-page story about Goddard's
rocket, an unsigned New York Times editorial, in a section
entitled "Topics of the Times", scoffed at the
proposal. The article, which bore the title "A Severe
Strain on Credulity", began with apparent approval,
but soon went on to cast serious doubt:
As a method of sending a missile to the higher, and
even highest, part of the earth's atmospheric envelope,
Professor Goddard's multiple-charge rocket is a practicable,
and therefore promising device. Such a rocket, too, might
carry self-recording instruments, to be released at the
limit of its flight, and conceivable parachutes would
bring them safely to the ground. It is not obvious, however,
that the instruments would return to the point of departure;
indeed, it is obvious that they would not, for parachutes
drift exactly as balloons do. And the rocket, or what
was left of it after the last explosion, would need to
be aimed with amazing skill, and in a dead calm, to fall
on the spot whence it started.
that is a slight inconvenience, at least from the scientific
standpoint, though it might be serious enough from that
of the always innocent bystander a few hundred or thousand
yards from the firing line.
article pressed further on Goddard's proposal to launch
rockets beyond the atmosphere:
[A]fter the rocket quits our air and really starts
on its longer journey, its flight would be neither accelerated
nor maintained by the explosion of the charges it then
might have left. To claim that it would be is to deny
a fundamental law of dynamics, and only Dr. Einstein and
his chosen dozen, so few and fit, are licensed to do that.
in the follow-on section, "His plan is not original,"
the writer assumed, wrongly, that Goddard's understanding
of Newton's laws was flawed:
That Professor Goddard, with his "chair"
in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian
Institution, does not know the relation of action and
reaction, and of the need to have something better than
a vacuum against which to reactto say that would
be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge
ladled out daily in high schools.
to the Times, thrust is possible in a vacuum.
week after the New York Times editorial, Goddard released
a signed statement to the Associated Press, attempting
to restore reason to what had become a sensational story:
Too much attention has been concentrated on the proposed
flash pow[d]er experiment, and too little on the exploration
of the atmosphere. . . . Whatever interesting possibilities
there may be of the method that has been proposed, other
than the purpose for which it was intended, no one of
them could be undertaken without first exploring the atmosphere.
1924, Goddard published an article, "How my speed
rocket can propel itself in vacuum," in Popular Science,
in which he explained the physics and gave details of
the vacuum experiments he had performed to prove the theory.
However, even so, after one of Goddard's experiments in
1929, a local Worcester newspaper carried the mocking
headline "Moon rocket misses target by 238,7991?2
a result of harsh criticism from the media and from other
scientists, and understanding better than most the military
applications for which foreign powers could use this technology,
Goddard became increasingly suspicious of others and often
worked alone, except during the two World Wars, which
limited the impact of much of his work. Another limiting
factor was the lack of support from the American government,
military and academia as to the study of the atmosphere,
near space and military applications. As Germany became
ever more war-like, he refused to communicate with German
rocket experimenters, though he received more and more
correspondence from them.
years after its editorial mocking Goddard, on July 17,
1969 the day after the launch of Apollo 11
The New York Times published a short item under the headline
"A Correction." The three-paragraph statement
summarized its 1920 editorial, and concluded:
Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed
the findings of Isaac Newton in the 17th Century and it
is now definitely established that a rocket can function
in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. The Times regrets
began experimenting with liquid oxidizer, liquid fuel
rockets in September 1921, and successfully tested the
first liquid propellant engine in November 1923. It had
a cylindrical combustion chamber, using impinging jets
to mix and atomize liquid oxygen and gasoline.
192425, Goddard had problems developing a high-pressure
piston pump to send fuel to the combustion chamber. He
wanted to scale up the experiments, but his funding would
not allow such growth. He decided to forgo the pumps and
use a pressurized fuel feed system applying pressure to
the fuel tank from a tank of inert gas, a technique used
December 6, 1925, he tested the simpler pressure feed
system. He conducted a static test on the firing stand
at the Clark University physics laboratory. The engine
successfully lifted its own weight in a 27-second test
in the static rack. It was a major success for Goddard,
proving that a liquid fuel rocket was possible. The test
moved Goddard an important step closer to launching a
rocket with liquid fuel.
conducted an additional test in December, and two more
in January 1926. After that, he began preparing for a
possible launch of the rocket system.
launched the first liquid-fueled (gasoline and liquid
oxygen) rocket on March 16, 1926, in Auburn, Massachusetts.
Present at the launch were his crew chief, Henry Sachs,
Esther Goddard, and Percy Roope, who was Clark's assistant
professor in the physics department. Goddard's diary entry
of the event was notable for its understatement:
March 16. Went to Auburn with S[achs] in am. E[sther]
and Mr. Roope came out at 1 p.m. Tried rocket at 2.30.
It rose 41 feet & went 184 feet, in 2.5 secs., after
the lower half of the nozzle burned off. Brought materials
diary entry the next day elaborated:
March 17, 1926. The first flight with a rocket using
liquid propellants was made yesterday at Aunt Effie's
farm in Auburn.... Even though the release was pulled,
the rocket did not rise at first, but the flame came out,
and there was a steady roar. After a number of seconds
it rose, slowly until it cleared the frame, and then at
express train speed, curving over to the left, and striking
the ice and snow, still going at a rapid rate.
Goddard, bundled against the cold New England weather
March 16, 1926, holds the launching frame of his most
notable invention the first liquid-fueled rocket.
rocket, which was later dubbed "Nell", rose
just 41 feet during a 2.5-second flight that ended 184
feet away 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.
familiar with more modern rocket designs may find it difficult
to distinguish the rocket from its launching apparatus
in the well-known picture of "Nell". The complete
rocket is significantly taller than Goddard, but does
not include the pyramidal support structure which he is
grasping. The rocket's combustion chamber is the small
cylinder at the top; the nozzle is visible beneath it.
The fuel tank, which is also part of the rocket, is the
larger cylinder opposite Goddard's torso. The fuel tank
is directly beneath the nozzle, and is protected from
the motor's exhaust by an asbestos cone. Asbestos-wrapped
aluminum tubes connect the motor to the tanks, providing
both support and fuel transport. This layout is no longer
used, since the experiment showed that this was no more
stable than placing the rocket engine at the base. By
May, after a series of modifications to simplify the plumbing,
the engine was placed in the now classic position, at
the lower end of the rocket.
determined early that fins alone were not sufficient to
stabilize the rocket in flight and keep it on the desired
trajectory in the face of winds aloft and other perturbing
forces. He added movable vanes in the exhaust, controlled
by a gyroscope, to control and steer his rocket. (The
Germans used this technique in their V-2.) He also introduced
the more efficient swiveling engine in several rockets,
basically the method used to steer large liquid-propellant
missiles and launchers today.
a launch of one of Goddard's rockets in July 1929 again
gained the attention of the newspapers, Charles Lindbergh
learned of his work in a New York Times article. At the
time, Lindbergh had begun to wonder what would become
of aviation (even space flight) in the distant future
and had settled on jet propulsion and rocket flight as
a probable next step. After checking with the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT) and being assured that Goddard
was a bona fide physicist and not a crackpot, he phoned
Goddard in November 1929. Professor Goddard met the aviator
soon after, in his office at Clark University. Upon meeting
Goddard, Lindbergh was immediately impressed by his research,
and Goddard was similarly impressed by the flier's interest.
He discussed his work openly with Lindbergh, forming an
alliance that would last for the rest of his life. While
having long since become reticent to share his ideas,
Goddard showed complete openness with those few who shared
his dream, and whom he felt he could trust.
late 1929, Goddard had been attracting additional notoriety
with each rocket launch. He was finding it increasingly
difficult to conduct his research without unwanted distractions.
Lindbergh discussed finding additional financing for Goddard's
work, and put his famous name to work for Goddard. Into
1930, Lindbergh made several proposals to industry and
private investors for funding, which proved all but impossible
to find following the recent U.S. stock market crash in
the spring of 1930, Lindbergh finally found an ally in
the Guggenheim family. Financier Daniel Guggenheim agreed
to fund Goddard's research over the next four years for
a total of $100,000 (~$1.7 million today). The Guggenheim
family, especially Harry Guggenheim, would continue to
support Goddard's work in the years to come. The Goddards
soon moved to Roswell, New Mexico.
of the military potential of the rocket, Goddard, Lindbergh,
Harry Guggenheim, the Smithsonian Institution and others
tried in 1940, before the U.S. entered World War II, to
convince the Army and Navy of its value. Goddard's services
were offered, but there was no interest, initially. Two
young, imaginative officers eventually got the services
to attempt to contract with Goddard just prior to the
war. The Navy beat the Army to the punch and secured his
services to build liquid-fueled rockets for jet-assisted
take-off (JATO) of aircraft. These rockets were the precursors
to some of the large rocket engines that launched the
of vision in the United States
general, there was a lack of vision and serious interest
in the United States concerning the potential of rocketry,
especially in Washington. Although the Weather Bureau,
was interested beginning in 1929 in Goddard's rocket for
atmospheric research, the Bureau could not secure governmental
funding. Between the World Wars, the Guggenheim Foundation
was the main source of funding for Goddard's research.
Goddard's liquid-fueled rocket was "neglected"
by his country, according to aerospace historian Eugene
Emme, but was noticed and advanced by other nations, especially
the Germans. Interestingly, Goddard showed remarkable
prescience in 1923 in a letter to the Smithsonian. He
knew that the Germans were very interested in rocketry
and said he "would not be surprised if the research
would become something in the nature of a race" and
he wondered how soon the European "theorists"
would begin to build rockets.
1936, the U.S. military attache in Berlin asked Charles
Lindbergh to visit Germany and learn what he could of
their progress in aviation. Although the Luftwaffe showed
him their factories and were open concerning their growing
airpower, they were silent on the subject of rocketry.
When Lindbergh told Goddard of this behavior, Goddard
said, "Yes, they must have plans for the rocket.
When will our own people in Washington listen to reason?"
of the U.S.'s largest universities were also slow to realize
rocketry's potential. Just before the war, the head of
the aeronautics department at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (MIT), at a meeting held by the Army Air
Corps to discuss project funding, said that (Cal Tech)
"can take the Buck Rogers Job [rocket research]."
In 1941, Goddard tried to recruit an engineer for his
team from MIT but couldn't find one who was interested.
There were some exceptions: MIT was at least teaching
basic rocketry, and Cal Tech had courses in rocketry and
aerodynamics. After the war, Dr. Jerome Hunsaker of MIT,
having studied Goddard's patents, stated that "Every
liquid-fuel rocket that flies is a Goddard rocket."
away in Roswell, Goddard was still head of the physics
department at Clark University, and Clark deserves credit
for allowing him to devote most of his time to research.
Likewise the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)
permitted astronomer Samuel Herrick to pursue research
in space vehicle guidance and control, and shortly after
the war to teach courses in spacecraft guidance and orbit
determination. Herrick began corresponding with Goddard
in 1931 and asked if he should work in this new field,
which he named astrodynamics. Herrick said that Goddard
had the vision to advise and encourage him in his use
of celestial mechanics "to anticipate the basic problem
of space navigation."
new financial backing, Goddard eventually relocated to
Roswell, New Mexico, in summer of 1930,:46 where he
worked with his team of technicians in near-isolation
and relative secrecy for years. He had consulted a meteorologist
as to the best area to do his work and Roswell seemed
ideal. Here they would not endanger anyone, would not
be bothered by the curious, and experienced a more moderate
climate (which was also better for Goddard's health).
The locals valued personal privacy, knew Goddard desired
his, and when travelers asked where Goddard's facilities
were located, they would likely be misdirected.
September 1931, his rockets had the now familiar appearance
of a smooth casing with tail-fins. He began experimenting
with gyroscopic guidance, and made a flight test of such
a system in April 1932. A gyroscope mounted on gimbals
electrically controlled steering vanes in the exhaust,
similar to the system used by the German V-2 over 10 years
later. Though the rocket crashed after a short ascent,
the guidance system had worked, and Goddard considered
the test a success.
temporary loss of funding, as a result of the depression,
from the Guggenheims forced Goddard in spring of 1932
to return to Clark University until fall of 1934, when
funding resumed. Upon his return to Roswell, he began
work on his A series of rockets, 4 to 4.5 meters long,
and powered by gasoline and liquid oxygen pressurized
with nitrogen. The gyroscopic control system was housed
in the middle of the rocket, between the propellant tanks.
A-4 used a simpler pendulum system for guidance, as the
gyroscopic system was being repaired. On March 8, 1935
it flew up to 1,000 feet, then turned into the wind and,
Goddard reported, "roared in a powerful descent across
the prairie, at close to, or at, the speed of sound."
On March 28, 1935, the A-5 successfully flew vertically
to an altitude of 1.46 kilometers (0.91 mi; 4,800 ft)
using his gyroscopic guidance system. It then turned to
a nearly horizontal path, flew 13,000 feet and achieved
a maximum speed of 550 miles per hour. Goddard was elated
because the guidance system kept the rocket on a vertical
path so well.
Charles Lindbergh took this picture of
Robert H. Goddard's rocket, when he peered down
the launching tower on September 23, 1935, in Roswell,
19361939, Goddard began work on the K and L series
rockets, which were much more massive and designed to
reach very high altitude. The K series consisted of static
bench tests of a more powerful engine, achieving a thrust
of 624 pounds in February 1936. This work was plagued
by trouble with engine burn-through. In 1923, Goddard
had built a regeneratively cooled engine, which circulated
liquid oxygen around the outside of the combustion chamber,
but he deemed the idea too complicated. He then used a
curtain cooling method, which involved spraying excess
gasoline, which evaporated, around the inside wall of
the combustion chamber, but this scheme did not work well,
and the larger rockets failed. Returning to a smaller
design, the L-13 reached an altitude of 2.7 kilometers
(1.7 mi; 8,900 ft), the highest of any of Goddard's rockets.
Weight was reduced by using thin-walled fuel tanks wound
with high-tensile-strength wire.
towing a rocket in Roswell
1940 to 1941, work was done on the P series of rockets,
which used propellant turbopumps (also powered by gasoline
and liquid oxygen). The lightweight pumps produced higher
propellant pressures, permitting a more powerful engine
(greater thrust) and and a lighter structure (lighter
tanks and no pressurization tank), but two launches both
ended in crashes after reaching an altitude of only a
few hundred feet. The turbopumps worked well, however,
and Goddard was pleased.
Goddard mentioned the need for turbopumps, Harry Guggenheim
suggested that he contact pump manufacturers to aid him.
None were interested, as the cost of development of these
miniature pumps was prohibitive. Goddard's team was therefore
left on its own and from September 1938 to June 1940 designed
and tested the small turbopumps and gas generators to
operate the turbines. Esther later said that the pump
tests were "the most trying and disheartening phase
of the research."
was able to flight-test many of his rockets, but many
resulted in what the uninitiated would call failures,
usually resulting from engine malfunction or loss of control.
Goddard did not consider them failures, however, because
he felt that he always learned something from a test.
Most of his work involved static tests, which are a standard
procedure today, before a flight test.
an instrument for reaching extreme altitudes, Goddard's
rockets were not very successful; they did not achieve
an altitude greater than 2.7 km in 1937, while a balloon
sonde had already reached 35 km in 1921. By contrast,
German rocket scientists had achieved an altitude of 2.4
km with the A-2 rocket in 1934, 8 km by 1939 with the
A-5, and 196 km in 1942 with the A-4 (V-2) launched vertically,
reaching the outer limits of the atmosphere and into space.:221
pace was slower than the Germans' because he did not have
the resources they did. If reaching high altitudes had
been his only goal, he could have assembled solid fuel
engines together in a simpler multi-stage rocket and beat
the Germans to space. But he was trying to perfect his
liquid fuel engine and subsystems such as guidance and
control so that his rocket could achieve high altitudes
without tumbling in the rare atmosphere, providing a stable
vehicle for the experiments it would eventually carry.
He had built the necessary turbopumps and was on the verge
of building larger, more reliable rockets to reach extreme
altitudes when World War II intervened and changed the
path of American history. He hoped to return to his experiments
in Roswell after the war.
Goddard had brought his work in rocketry to the attention
of the United States Army, between World Wars, he was
rebuffed, since the Army largely failed to grasp the military
application of large rockets and said there was no money
for new experimental weapons. German military intelligence,
by contrast, had paid attention to Goddard's work. The
Goddards noticed the some mail had been opened, and some
mailed reports had gone missing. An accredited military
attaché to the US, Friedrich von Boetticher, sent
a four-page report to the Abwehr in 1936, and the spy
Gustav Guellich sent a mixture of facts and made-up information,
claiming to have visited Roswell and witnessed a launch.
The Abwehr was very interested and responded with more
questions about Goddard's work. Guellich's reports did
include information about fuel mixtures and the important
concept of fuel-curtain cooling, but thereafter the Germans
received very little information about Goddard.
Soviet KGB had a spy in the U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics.
In 1935, she gave them a report Goddard had written for
the Navy in 1933. It contained results of tests and flights
and suggestions for military uses of his rockets. The
Soviets considered this to be very valuable information.
It provided few design details, but gave the them the
direction and progress of Goddard's work.
you know about your own rocket pioneer? Dr. Goddard was
ahead of us all."
Wernher von Braun, when asked about Goddard's work following
World War II
Lieutenant Charles F. Fischer, who had visited Goddard
in Roswell earlier and gained his confidence, believed
Goddard was doing valuable work and was able to convince
the Bureau of Aeronautics in September 1941 that Goddard
could build the JATO unit the Navy desired. While still
in Roswell, and before the Navy contract took effect,
Goddard began in September to apply his technology to
build a variable-thrust engine to be attached to a PBY
seaplane. By May 1942, he had a unit that could meet the
Navy's requirements and be able to launch a heavily loaded
aircraft from a short runway. In February, he received
part of a PBY with bullet holes apparently acquired in
the Pearl Harbor attack. Goddard wrote to Guggenheim that
"I can think of nothing that would give me greater
satisfaction than to have it contribute to the inevitable
April, Fischer notified Goddard that the Navy wanted to
do all its rocket work at the Engineering Experiment Station
at Annapolis. Esther, worried that a move to the climate
of Maryland would cause Robert's health to deteriorate
faster, objected. But the patriotic Goddard replied, "Esther,
don't you know there's a war on?" Fischer also questioned
the move, as Goddard could work just as well in Roswell.
Goddard simply answered, "I was wondering when you
would ask me." Fischer had wanted to offer him something
bigger -- a long-range missile -- but JATO was all he
could manage, hoping for a greater project later. It was
a case of a square peg in a round hole, according to a
and his team had already been in Annapolis a month and
had tested his constant-thrust JATO engine when he received
a Navy telegram, forwarded from Roswell, ordering him
Annapolis. Lt. Fischer asked for a crash effort. By August
his engine was producing 800 lbs of thrust for 20 seconds,
and Fischer was anxious to try it on a PBY. On the sixth
test run, with all bugs worked out, the PBY, piloted by
Fischer, was pushed into the air from the Severn River.
Fischer landed and prepared to launch again. Goddard had
wanted to check the unit, but radio contact with the PBY
had been lost. On the seventh try, the engine caught fire.
The plane was 150 feet up when flight was aborted. Because
Goddard had installed a safety feature at the last minute,
there was no explosion and no lives were lost. The problem's
cause was traced to hasty installation and rough handling.
Cheaper, safer solid fuel JATO engines were eventually
selected by the armed forces. An engineer later said,
"Putting [Goddard's] rocket on a seaplane was like
hitching an eagle to a plow."
the spring of 1945, Goddard saw a captured German V-2
ballistic missile, in the naval laboratory in Annapolis,
Maryland, where Goddard had been working under contract.
The unlaunched rocket that had been captured by the US
Army from the Mittelwerk factory in the Harz mountains,
and samples began to be shipped by Special Mission V-2
on 22 May 1945.
a thorough inspection, Goddard was convinced that the
Germans had "stolen" his work. Though the design
details were not exactly the same, the basic design of
the V-2 was similar to one of Goddard's rockets. The V-2,
however, was technically far more advanced than the most
successful of the rockets designed and tested by Goddard.
The Peenemünde rocket group led by Wernher von Braun
may have benefited from the pre-1939 contacts to a limited
extent, but had also started from the work of their own
space pioneer, Hermann Oberth; they also had the benefit
of intensive state funding, large-scale production facilities
(using slave labor), and repeated flight-testing that
allowed them to refine their designs. Oberth was a theorist
and had never built a rocket or a working engine.
in 1963, von Braun, reflecting on the history of rocketry,
said of Goddard: "His rockets ... may have been
rather crude by present-day standards, but they blazed
the trail and incorporated many features used in our most
modern rockets and space vehicles". He once recalled
that "Goddard's experiments in liquid fuel saved
us years of work, and enabled us to perfect the V-2 years
before it would have been possible."
features developed by Goddard appeared in the V-2: (1)
turbopumps were used to inject fuel into the combustion
chamber; (2) gyroscopically controlled vanes in the nozzle
stablized the rocket until external vanes in the air could
do so; and (3) excess alcohol was fed in around the combustion
chamber walls, so that a blanket of evaporating gas protected
the engine walls from the combustion heat.
not by plan, Goddard's work on liquid-fueled rockets nevertheless
played a part in bringing World War II to an earlier end.
The Germans had been watching Goddard's progress before
the war and became convinced that large, liquid fuel rockets
were feasible. General Dornberger, head of the V-2 project,
used the idea that they were in a race with the U.S. and
that Goddard had "disappeared" (to work with
the Navy) to obtain high priority from Hitler. It was
a strategic mistake, however, to expend an estimated one-half
billion war-era-dollars (not counting slave labor) for
a terror weapon that did not create the fear desired and
lacked the accuracy to be very effective against military
targets. Resources could have been better used on existing,
or new more effective, weapons.
avoided sharing details of his work with other scientists,
and preferred to work alone with his technicians. Frank
Malina, who was then studying rocketry at the California
Institute of Technology, visited Goddard in August 1936.
Goddard hesitated to discuss any of his research, other
than that which had already been published in Liquid-Propellant
Rocket Development. Theodore von Kármán,
Malina's mentor at the time, was unhappy with Goddard's
attitude and later wrote, "Naturally we at Caltech
wanted as much information as we could get from Goddard
for our mutual benefit. But Goddard believed in secrecy....
The trouble with secrecy is that one can easily go in
the wrong direction and never know it." However,
at an earlier point von Kármán said that
Malina was "highly enthusiastic" after his visit
and that Caltech made changes to their liquid-propellant
rocket, based on Goddard's work and patents. Malina remembered
his visit as friendly and that he saw all but a few components
in Goddard's shop.
concerns about secrecy led to criticism for failure to
cooperate with other scientists and engineers. His approach
at that time was that independent development of his ideas
without interference would bring quicker results even
though he received less technical support. George Sutton,
who became a rocket scientist working with von Braun's
team in the late 1940s, said that he and his fellow workers
had not heard of Goddard or his contributions, and they
would have saved time to have had details of his work.
Sutton admits that it may have been their fault for not
looking for Goddard's patents and depending on the German
team for knowledge and guidance; he wrote that information
about the patents was not well distributed in the U.S.
at that early period, though Germany and the Soviet Union
had copies of them. (The Patent Office did not release
rocket patents during World War II.)
1939, von Kármán's Guggenheim Aeronautical
Laboratory at Caltech had received Army Air Corps funding
to develop rockets to assist in aircraft take-off. Goddard
learned of this in 1940, and openly expressed his displeasure.
Malina could not understand why the Army did not arrange
for an exchange of information between Goddard and Caltech,
since both were under government contract at the same
time. Goddard did not think he could be of that much help
to Caltech because they were designing rockets with solid
fuel, while he was using liquid fuels.
was concerned with avoiding the public criticism and ridicule
he had faced in the 1920s, which he believed had harmed
his professional reputation. He also lacked interest in
discussions with people who had less understanding of
rocketry than he did, feeling that his time was extremely
constrained. Goddard's health was frequently poor, as
a result of his earlier bout of tuberculosis, and he was
uncertain about how long he had to live. He felt, therefore,
that he hadn't the time to spare arguing with other scientists
and the press about his new field of research, or helping
all the amateur rocketeers who wrote to him. In 1932,
Goddard wrote to H. G. Wells:
"How many more years I shall be able to work on
the problem, I do not know; I hope, as long as I live.
There can be no thought of finishing, for "aiming
at the stars," both literally and figuratively, is
a problem to occupy generations, so that no matter how
much progress one makes, there is always the thrill of
spoke to professional groups, published articles and papers
and patented his ideas; but while he discussed basic principles,
he was unwilling to reveal the details of his designs
until he had flown rockets to high altitudes and thus
proven his theory. He tended to avoid any mention of space
flight, and spoke only of high-altitude research, since
he believed that other scientists regarded the subject
Goddard's tendency to secrecy was not absolute, nor was
he totally uncooperative. In 1945, Caltech was building
the WAC Corporal for the Army but was having trouble with
the rocket's engine performance. Frank Malina went to
Annapolis and consulted with Goddard and they arrived
at a solution to the liquid propellant problem, which
resulted in the successful launch of the high-altitude
the First and Second World Wars, Goddard offered his services,
patents and technology to the military, and made some
significant contributions. Several young Army officers,
and some higher-ranking ones, believed Goddard's research
was important, but were unable to generate funds for his
the end of his life, Goddard, realizing he was no longer
going to be able to make significant progress alone in
his field, joined the American Rocket Society and became
a director, and made plans to work in the budding aerospace
June 21, 1924, Goddard married Esther Christine Kisk (March
31, 1901 June 4, 1982), a secretary in Clark University's
President's office, whom he had met in 1919. She became
enthusiastic about rocketry and photographed some of his
work as well as aided him in his experiments and paperwork,
including accounting. They enjoyed going to the movies
in Roswell and participated in community organizations
such as the Rotary and Women's clubs. He painted the New
Mexican scenery, sometimes with artist Peter Hurd, and
played the piano. She played bridge while he read. Esther
said Robert participated in the community and readily
accepted invitations to speak to church and service groups.
The couple did not have children. After his death, she
sorted out Goddard's papers and secured 131 additional
patents on his work.
Goddard's religious views, he was raised as an Episcopalian,
though he was not personally religious. They were associated
with the Episcopal church in Roswell, and he attended
occasionally. He once spoke to a young people's group
on the relationship of science and religion.
serious bout with tuberculosis weakened his lungs, affecting
his ability to work, and was one reason he liked to work
alone, in order to avoid argument and confrontation with
others and use his time fruitfully. He labored with the
prospect of a shorter than average life span. After arriving
in Roswell, Goddard applied for life insurance, but when
the company doctor examined him he said that Goddard belonged
in a bed in Switzerland (where he could get the best care).
Goddard's health began to deteriorate further after moving
to the humid climate of Maryland to work for the Navy.
He was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1945. He continued
to work, able to speak only in a whisper, until surgery
was required, and he died in August of that year in Baltimore,
Maryland. He was buried in Hope Cemetery in his home town
of Worcester, Massachusetts.
Guggenheim Foundation and Goddard's estate filed suit
in 1951 against the U.S. government for prior infringement
of Goddard's patents. In 1960, the parties settled the
suit, and the U.S. armed forces and NASA paid out an award
of $1 million (half went to his wife), at that time the
highest government settlement ever paid in a patent case.
settlement amount exceeded the total of all the funding
for Goddard's work throughout his entire career.
Goddard was credited with 214 patents for his work;
131 of these were awarded after his death.
One of his contributions was his influence on people
who went on to do significant work in the U.S. space program,
such as Robert Truax (USN), Milton Rosen (Naval Research
Laboratory and NASA), astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell,
Gene Kranz (NASA), astrodynamicist Samuel Herrick (UCLA),
and General Jimmy Doolittle (USA and NASA).
Some of the awards included: the Langley Gold Medal
from the Smithsonian Institution in 1960 and the Congressional
gold medal in September 16, 1959.
The Goddard Space Flight Center, a NASA facility
in Maryland, was established in 1959. The crater Goddard
on the Moon is also named in his honor.
The Dr. Robert H. Goddard Collection and the Robert
Goddard Exhibition Room are housed in the Archives and
Special Collections area of Clark University's Robert
H. Goddard Library.
Robert H. Goddard High School was completed in
1965 in Roswell, New Mexico and dedicated by Esther Goddard;
the school's mascot is titled "Rockets".
A small memorial with a statue of Goddard is located
at the site where Goddard launched the first liquid-propelled
rocket, now the Pakachoag golf course in Auburn, Massachusetts.
Release 13 of the Linux distribution Fedora is
named after Goddard.
The television series "Star Trek: The Next
Generation" had a shuttlecraft named after Goddard.
Goddard Ave. in Norman, Oklahoma is named in his