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Robert H. Goddard

Robert Hutchings Goddard (1882-1945)
Personal information
Birth date October 5, 1882(1882-10-05)
Birth place Worcester, Massachusetts
Date of death August 10, 1945 (aged 62)
Place of death Phoenix, Arizona
Significant advance controlled, liquid-fueled rocketry

Robert Hutchings Goddard (October 5, 1882 – August 10, 1945), U.S. professor of physics and scientist, was a pioneer of controlled, liquid-fueled rocketry. On March 16, 1926, he became the first person in the world to build and launch a liquid-fueled rocket. From 1930 to 1935, Goddard 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 concerning space flight.

Robert 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.[1][2][3] He was the first not only to recognize the scientific potential of missiles and space travel but also to bring about the design and construction of the rockets needed to implement those ideas.[4]


Early life and inspiration

Goddard was born in 1882 in Worcester, Massachusetts, to Nahum Danford Goddard (1859–1928) and Fannie Louise Hoyt (1864–1920). Robert was their only child to live; another younger son was born with physical disabilities, and died not long after birth.[citation needed] With the introduction of electric power in American cities in the 1880s, the young Goddard became interested in science. When his father showed him how to generate static electricity on the family's carpet, the five-year-old's imagination was inspired. Robert experimented, believing he could jump higher if the zinc in batteries could somehow be charged with static electricity. The experiments failed, but his interest continued unabated.[citation needed]

Goddard developed a fascination with flight, first with kites and then with balloons. He also became a thorough diarist and documenter of his own work, a skill that would greatly benefit his later career. These interests merged at age 16, when Goddard attempted to construct a balloon made from 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.[citation needed]

He became interested in space when he read H. G. Wells' science fiction classic The War of the Worlds when he was 16 years old.[5] His dedication to pursuing rocketry became fixed on October 19, 1899. While climbing a cherry tree to cut off dead limbs, he imagined, as he later wrote, "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."[6] For the rest of his life he observed October 19 as "Anniversary Day", a private commemoration of the day of his greatest inspiration.

Education and early work

A thin and frail boy, almost always in fragile health, with stomach problems, colds and bronchitis, Goddard fell two years behind his classmates. He became a voracious reader, regularly visiting the local public library to borrow books on the physical sciences. Later, he continued his formal schooling as an 18-year-old sophomore at South High School in Worcester. His peers twice elected him class president. At his graduation ceremony in 1904, he gave his class oration as valedictorian. In his speech, Goddard included a phrase that would become emblematic of his life: "It has often proved true that the dream of yesterday is the hope of today, and the reality of tomorrow." Goddard enrolled at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1904. He quickly impressed the head of the physics department, A. Wilmer Duff, with his thirst for knowledge. Professor Duff took him on as a laboratory assistant and tutor.[citation needed]

At Worcester, he joined the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, and began a long courtship with Miriam Olmstead, an honor student who was second in her high school class. Eventually, she and Goddard were engaged, but they drifted apart and ended the engagement around 1909.[citation needed]

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. 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.[citation needed]

Goddard received his B.S. degree in physics from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1908, and after serving a year as an instructor in physics at Worcester Tech, he enrolled at Clark University in Worcester in the fall of 1909.[7]

His first writing on the possibility of a liquid-fueled rocket came in February 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 a 50 percent efficiency could be achieved with liquid fuel.[citation needed]

Goddard received his M.A. degree in physics from Clark University in 1910 and then completed his Ph.D. degree in physics at Clark University in 1911. In 1912, he accepted a research fellowship at Princeton University.[citation needed]

First patents

In 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.[8] 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.[9][10][11]

By 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 afraid to admit that his ultimate goal was space flight, since scientists, in America especially, did not consider such a pursuit to be real science, and the public was not ready to seriously accept it.[12]

Unfortunately, in early 1913, Goddard became seriously ill with tuberculosis and was forced to leave his position at Princeton. He returned to Worcester, where he began a prolonged recovery.[citation needed]

It was during this recuperation that Goddard began to produce his most important work. In 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 become important milestones in the history of rocketry.[citation needed]

In 1915 Goddard designed an elaborate experiment at Clark University to prove that a rocket would perform in a vacuum such as space. He believed it would, but he had to show other scientists who did not. He demonstrated that a rocket's performance actually decreases under atmospheric pressure.[citation needed]

From 1916-1917, Goddard built and experimented with ion thrusters, which he imagined could be used for propulsion at near-vacuum conditions at very high altitudes. The small glass engines he built were tested at atmospheric pressure, where they generated a stream of ionized air. [13]

Mid to late 1910s

In the fall of 1914, Goddard's health had improved enough for him to accept a part-time teaching position at Clark University. By 1916, the cost of his rocket research was becoming too much for his modest teaching salary to bear. He began to solicit financial assistance from outside sponsors, beginning with the Smithsonian Institution, which agreed to a five-year grant totaling $5,000. Clark was able to contribute $3500 and the use of their physics lab to the project. Worcester Polytechnic Institute allowed him to use its Magnetics Laboratory on the edge of campus during this time as a safe place for testing.

Not all of Goddard's early work was geared towards space travel. He developed the basic idea of the bazooka under an Army contract and, using a music rack for a launch platform, demonstrated the weapon at Aberdeen Proving Ground two days before the Armistice that ended World War I. Later, another Clark University researcher, Dr. C. N. Hickman, continued Goddard's work on the bazooka, leading to the weapon used in World War II.

A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes

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. ,[14] 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 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.[15] By means of this nozzle, Goddard increased the efficiency of his rocket engines from 2 percent to 64 percent and obtained supersonic exhaust speeds of over Mach 7.[16][17]

Though most of this work dealt with the theoretical and experimental relations between propellant, rocket mass, thrust and velocity, a final section titled 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.[18] 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. Forty years later, Goddard's concept was vindicated when the Soviet space probe Luna 2 crash-landed on the Moon on September 14, 1959, though radio tracking did away with the need for flash powder.[citation needed]

Goddard 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 flyby 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.[19]


The 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 Goddard's 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 they received from the general public.[citation needed]

On 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 seen 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."[20]

The next day, an unsigned New York Times editorial delighted in heaping scorn on the proposal. The writer attacked the instrumentation application by questioning whether "the instruments would return to the point of departure... for parachutes drift just 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. But that is a slight inconvenience...though it might be serious enough from the [standpoint] of the always innocent bystander...a few thousand yards from the firing line."[21] The full weight of scorn, however, was reserved for the lunar proposal: "after the rocket quits our air and really starts on its longer journey it will neither be 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." It expressed disbelief that Professor Goddard actually "does not know of the relation of action to reaction, and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react" and even talked of "such things as intentional mistakes or oversights." Goddard, the Times declared, apparently suggesting bad faith, "only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools."[21] (Forty-nine years later, 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", summarizing its 1920 editorial mocking Goddard, and concluding: "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 the error.")[citation needed]

In 1924, Goddard published an article "How my speed rocket can propel itself in vacuum" in Popular science that explained the physics and gave details of the vacuum experiments he had performed to prove the theory.[22] However, even so, after one of Goddard's experiments in 1929, a local Worcester newspaper carried the mocking headline "Moon rocket misses target by 238,799 1/2 miles."[citation needed]

As 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, which limited the impact 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.[citation needed]

First liquid-fueled flight

Robert Goddard, bundled against the cold New England weather of March 16, 1926, holds the launching frame of his most notable invention — the first liquid-fueled rocket.

Goddard began experimenting with liquid oxygen and liquid-fueled rockets in September 1921, and 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 (gasoline and liquid oxygen) 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 184 feet away in a cabbage field,[23] 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.

Viewers 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.[24] 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.[citation needed]

Lindbergh and Goddard

After a launch of one of Goddard's rockets in July 1929 again gained the attention of the newspapers, Charles Lindbergh learned of his work. At the time, Lindbergh had begun to wonder what would become of aviation in the distant future, and had settled on rocket flight as a probable next step. He contacted Goddard in November 1929. The professor met the aviator soon after in Goddard's office at Clark University.[25] 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. This is an example, when many wanted to take advantage of him or deemed him a "nut," of Goddard's complete openness with those who shared his dream and that he felt he could trust.[26]

By 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 October 1929.[26]

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 (~$1.6 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, NM.[27]

Because of the military potential of the rocket, Goddard, Lindbergh, Harry Guggenheim, the Smithsonian Institution and others tried before 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 and secured his services to build liquid-fueled rockets for jet assisted take-off of aircraft. These rockets were the precursors to some of the large rocket engines that launched the space age.[12]

Roswell, New Mexico

Charles Lindbergh took this picture of Robert H. Goddard's rocket, when he peered down the launching tower on September 23, 1935, in Roswell, New Mexico.

With new financial backing, Goddard eventually relocated to Roswell, New Mexico in 1930, where he worked with his team of technicians in near isolation and secrecy for a dozen years. 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).

By September 1931, his rockets had the now familiar appearance of a smooth casing and tail fins. He began experimenting with gyroscopic guidance and made an unsuccessful 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.

A temporary loss of funding from the Guggenheims forced Goddard to return to Clark University until 1934, when funding resumed. Upon his return to Roswell, he began work on his A series of rockets 4 to 4.5 meters long, 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. In March 28, 1935, the A-5 successfully flew to an altitude of 1.46 kilometres (0.91 mi; 4,800 ft) using his guidance system. This rocket also achieved supersonic velocity.

In 1936-1939, Goddard began work on the K and L series rockets, which were much more massive and designed to reach very high altitude. This work was plagued by trouble with engine burn-through. Goddard had built a regeneratively cooled engine, which circulated liquid oxygen around the outside of the combustion chamber, in 1923 but deemed the idea too complicated. He was therefore using fuel curtain cooling, spraying excess gasoline on the inside wall of the combustion chamber, but this was not working well, and the larger rockets failed. Returning to a smaller design again, the L-13 reached an altitude of 2.7 kilometres (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.

From 1940–1941, work was done on the P series of rockets, which used propellant turbopumps (also powered by gasoline and liquid oxygen). Higher fuel pressure permitted a more powerful engine, but two launches both ended in crashes after reaching an altitude of only a few hundred feet. The turbopumps worked well, however.

Goddard was able to flight test many of his rockets; but many resulted in what the uninitiated would call failures because of engine malfunction or loss of control. Goddard did not consider them failures 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. Between 1930 and 1945, the following 31 rockets were launched:[28]

Date Type Altitude in feet Altitude in metres Flight duration Notes
December 30, 1930 Goddard 4 2000 610  ? record altitude
September 29, 1931 Goddard 4 180 55 9.6 s
October 13, 1931 Goddard 4 1700 520  ?
October 27, 1931 Goddard 4 1330 410  ?
April 19, 1932 - 135 41 5 s
February 16, 1935 A series 650 200  ?
March 8, 1935 A series 1000 300 12 s
March 28, 1935 A series 4800 1460 20 s record altitude
May 31, 1935 A series 7500 2300  ? record altitude
June 25, 1935 A series 120 37 10 s
July 12, 1935 A series 6600 2000 14 s
October 29, 1935 A series 4000 1220 12 s
July 31, 1936 L series, Section A 200 60 5 s
October 3, 1936 L-A 200 60 5 s
November 7, 1936 L-A 200 60  ?
December 18, 1936 L series, Section B 3 1  ? Veered horizontally immediately after launch
February 1, 1937 L-B 1870 570 20.5 s
February 27, 1937 L-B 1500 460 20 s
March 26, 1937 L-B 8000-9000 2500-2700 22.3 s Highest altitude achieved
April 22, 1937 L-B 6560 2000 21.5 s
May 19, 1937 L-B 3250 990 29.5 s
July 28, 1937 L-series, Section C 2055 630 28 s
August 26, 1937 L-C 2000 600  ?
November 24, 1937 L-C 100 30  ?
March 6, 1938 L-C 525 160  ?
March 17, 1938 L-C 2170 660 15 s
April 20, 1938 L-C 4215 1260 25.3 s
May 26, 1938 L-C 140 40  ?
August 9, 1938 L-C 4920 (visual)
3294 (barograph)
August 9, 1940 P-series, Section C 300 90  ?
May 8, 1941 P-C 250 80  ?

As 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), at a time when airplanes could reach up to 15 km and balloons 22 km. By contrast, German rocket scientists had already achieved an altitude of 3.5 km with the A-2 rocket (in 1934), reached 12 km by 1939 with the A-5 and 84 km in 1942 with the A-4 (V-2), reaching the outer limits of the atmosphere.

Goddard's pace was slower than the Germans' because he did not have the resources they did. But he was trying to perfect his rocket and the subsystems such as guidance and control so that it could achieve high altitudes without tumbling in the rare atmosphere and provide a stable vehicle for the experiments it would eventually carry. He was on the verge of building larger rockets to reach "extreme altitudes" when World War II intervened and changed the path of American history.

Though Goddard brought his work in rocketry to the attention of the United States Army, he was rebuffed, since the Army largely failed to grasp the military application of large rockets.

German military intelligence had once paid attention to Goddard's work. An accredited military attache to the US, Friedrich von Boetticher, sent a four-page report 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.[29][30] But thereafter the Germans received very little information about Goddard.

The Soviet NKVD 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 NKVD considered this to be very valuable information. It provided few design details, but gave the Soviets the direction and progress of Goddard's work.[31]



A frequently repeated story, launched by Goddard himself, declared that at the end of World War II Goddard saw the remnants of the German V-2 ballistic missile and was convinced that the Germans had stolen his work. Although Goddard did study a V-2, there is confusion as to how it was obtained and also just how influential Goddard had been on its design.

In the spring of 1945 Goddard saw a captured German V-2 ballistic missile which had been sent to the naval laboratory in Annapolis, Md. where Goddard had been working under contract. It is not out of the question that parts were despatched to Goddard in Annapolis, but there would not have been much time: Goddard died of throat cancer in August 1945.

One opinion, described in the May 1959 issue of Popular Science[32] would have it that the V-2 which he inspected was wreckage retrieved from a test flight that had crashed in Sweden (the so-called Bäckebo Bomb). This wreckage had been analyzed and reconstructed by British (not US) engineers at Farnborough from July 1944 as part of Project Big Ben.

Another view is that this was not the wreckage from Sweden, but an unlaunched rocket that had been captured by the US Army from the Mittelwerk factory in the Harz mountains. Samples captured here were first shipped back by Special Mission V-2 on 22nd May 1945.[33]

After a thorough inspection Goddard was convinced that the Germans had "stolen" his work. Though the design details were not 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 as a war project, large-scale production facilities (using slave labor), and repeated flight testing that allowed them to refine their designs. Nonetheless, 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".[34]

Goddard's secrecy

Goddard 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 of 1936. Goddard refused 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." Goddard's concerns about secrecy led to criticism for failure to cooperate with other scientists and engineers.

By 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.[35] 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 and Goddard was using liquid fuels.

Goddard was concerned with avoiding the public criticism and ridicule he had faced in the 1920s, which he believed had harmed his professional reputation. Goddard also lacked interest in discussions with people who had less understanding of rocketry than he did,[36] feeling that his time was extremely constrained.[37] 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.[38]

Goddard 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.[39] Goddard tended to avoid any mention of space flight, and spoke only of high altitude research, since he believed that other scientists regarded the subject as unscientific.[40]

During 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 work. [12]

Toward 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, became a director, and made plans to work in the budding aerospace industry.

Goddard was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1945, and died in August of that year in Baltimore, Maryland. He was buried in Hope Cemetery in his home town of Worcester, Massachusetts.[41]


Robert Goddard honored on a U.S. airmail stamp
Bronze plaque in Auburn, Massachusetts marking the spot where Dr. Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-fueled rocket on March 16, 1926.

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

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.[citation needed]

On Sept. 16, 1959, the U.S. Congress authorized the issuance of a gold medal in the honor of Professor Robert H. Goddard.[4]

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. Outside the library lies a structure depicting the flight path of Goddard's first liquid fuel rocket.[citation needed]

The Chemical Engineering department at Worcester Polytechnic Institute is housed in Goddard Hall.[citation needed]

Goddard's home town of Worcester established the Goddard School of Science and Technology, an elementary school, in 1992.[citation needed] Robert H. Goddard High School was completed in 1965 in Roswell, New Mexico and dedicated by Esther Goddard;[citation needed] the school's mascot is appropriately titled "Rockets".[citation needed]

The Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program Goddard Achievement, corresponding to promotion to Cadet Chief Master Sergeant is named for him.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Goddard Auditorium is located on the Earlham College campus in Richmond, Indiana.[citation needed]

The problem of optimizing the altitude of a rocket under atmospheric drag and gravity is referred to as the Goddard problem.[citation needed]

Private life

On June 21st 1924, Goddard married Esther Christine Kisk, a secretary in Clark University's President's office, whom he met in 1919. She had photographed some of his work as well as aided him in his experiments and paperwork, including accounting. After his death, she sorted out Goddard’s papers and secured 131 additional patents on his work. The couple did not have children. [42]


Robert Goddard footage.ogg
Video clips of Goddard's launches and other events in his life


  • "It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow." (From his high school graduation oration, "On Taking Things for Granted", June 1904)
  • "On the afternoon of October 19, 1899, I climbed a tall cherry tree and, armed with a saw which I still have, and a hatchet, started to trim the dead limbs from the cherry tree. It was one of the quiet, colorful afternoons of sheer beauty which we have in October in New England, and as I looked towards 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. I was a different boy when I descended the tree from when I ascended for existence at last seemed very purposive." (Written later, in an autobiographical sketch)
  • "Every vision is a joke until the first man accomplishes it; once realized, it becomes commonplace." (His response to The New York Times, 1920)


  • 1882 Birth in Worcester, Massachusetts
  • 1900 US Census living with his grandmother
  • 1908 Wrote Old Tech, a musical composition[43]
  • 1908 Graduation from Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  • 1919 A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes published
  • 1920 Report in The New York Times on January 12
  • 1924 Marriage to Esther Christine Kisk on June 21
  • 1926 First rocket launched from Auburn, Massachusetts on March 26
  • 1930 Moved to Mescalero Ranch, Roswell, New Mexico
  • 1945 Death

Patents of interest

See also


  1. ^ Swenson, Loyd S., Jr.; Grimwood, James M.; Alexander, Charles C. (1989). "Part I, Chapter I, Section entitled: "The Highway to Space"". This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, pp. 13-18. NASA. Retrieved 2009-05-27. 
  2. ^ Kluger, Jeffrey (March 29, 1999). "TIME 100: Robert Goddard". Time. Retrieved 2007-12-28. 
  3. ^ "Part I: Chemical Propulsion and the Dawn of Rocket Science". The Past and Future of Rocket Engine Propulsion. Regents of the University of Michigan. 2002. Retrieved 2007-12-28. 
  4. ^ a b Lynn Jenner, ed (March 29, 1999). "NASA - Dr. Robert H. Goddard: American Rocketry Pioneer". NASA. Retrieved 2009-05-27. 
  5. ^ Goddard Biography
  6. ^ "Robert Goddard and His Rockets". NASA. 
  7. ^ "WPI George C. Gordon Library - Robert Goddard". Retrieved 2010-03-10. 
  8. ^ Goddard, Robert H. "On ponderomotive force upon a dielectric which carries a displacement current in a magnetic field," Physical Review, vol. 6(2), pp. 99-120 (August 1914)
  9. ^ Aitken, Hugh G. J., The Continuous Wave: Technology and American Radio, 1900 - 1932 [Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985], p. 239.
  10. ^ Lehman, Milton, This High Man: The Life of Robert H. Goddard [N.Y., N.Y.: Farrar, Strauss, and Co., 1963], p. 59.
  11. ^ McElroy, Gil, "The Collins 45A - How Art Collins met Robert Goddard," QST, vol. 81(2), pp. 44 - 46 (February 1997).
  12. ^ a b c "Robert H. Goddard--America's Space Pioneer". 
  13. ^ "Robert H. Goddard - American Rocket Pioneer". 
  14. ^ Tsiolkovsky, Konstantin (1903). The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices. 
  15. ^ Shapiro, Ascher H. (1953). "4: Isentropic flow". The Dynamics and Thermodynamics of Compressible Fluid Flow. N.Y.: Ronald Press. 
  16. ^ Goddard, Robert H. (2002). Rockets. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications. pp. 2, 15. 
  17. ^ Clary, David A. (2003). Rocket Man: Robert H. Goddard and the Birth of the Space Age. N.Y.: Hyperion. pp. 44-45. 
  18. ^ Goddard, Rockets pp. 54–57
  19. ^ Goddard, Robert H. (March 1920). Report Concerning Further Developments. The Smithsonian Institution Archives. 
  20. ^ "Believes Rocket Can Reach Moon. Smithsonian Institution Tells of Prof. Goddard's Invention to Explore Upper Air. Multiple-Charge System. Instruments Could Go Up 200 Miles, and Bigger Rocket Might Land on Satellite.". New York Times. January 12, 1920, Monday. "Washington, January 11, 1920. Announcement was authorized by the Smithsonian Institution tonight that Professor Robert H. Goddard of Clark College had invented and tested a new type of multiple-charge, high efficiency rocket of entirely new design for exploring the unknown regions of the upper air." 
  21. ^ a b "Topics of the Times". New York Times. January 13, 1920. Retrieved 2007-06-21. "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 have to be aimed with amazing skill, and in dead calm, to fall on the spot where it started." 
  22. ^ Goddard, Robert, "How my speed rocket can propel itself in vacuum", Popular science (September 1924): p. 38, 
  23. ^ Streissguth, Thomas (1995). Rocket man: the story of Robert Goddard. Twenty-First Century Books. pp. 37. 
  24. ^ NASA, Discover NASA and You
  25. ^ Lehman, Milton (Oct 4, 1963). "How Lindbergh Gave a Lift to Rocketry". LIFE Magazine 55 (14): 115-127. ISSN 0024-3019. Retrieved 15 Mar 2010. 
  26. ^ a b Lehman, p. 117–8.
  27. ^ Lehman, p.118
  28. ^ "Goddard". 
  29. ^ Kahn, David (2000). Hitler's Spies: German Military Intelligence in World War II. Da Capo Press. 
  30. ^ Clary, David (2004). Rocket Man: Robert H. Goddard and the Birth of the Space Age. Hyperion. 
  31. ^ Haynes, J.E.; Klehr, H.; Vassiliev, A. (2009). Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America. Yale University Press. 
  32. ^ "The Man Who Opened the Door to Space". Popular Science. May 1959. 
  33. ^ Ordway, Frederick I, III; Sharpe, Mitchell R (1979). The Rocket Team. Apogee Books Space Series 36. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell. ISBN 1894959000. 
  34. ^ "Recollections of Childhood/Early Experiences in Rocketry". Retrieved 2010-03-10. 
  35. ^ Burrows, William E. (1999). This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age. Modern Library. pp. 89–92. ISBN 0375754857. 
  36. ^ Lehman, This High Man, p. 171
  37. ^ Lehman, This High Man, p. 23
  38. ^ Lehman, Milton (1963). This High Man. New York: Farrar, Straus and Company. pp. 23, 61, 71, 110-11, 114-15. 
  39. ^ Lehman, This High Man, p. 115
  40. ^ Lehman, This High Man, p. 116
  41. ^ "Dr. Goddard Dead. Expert on Rockets. Pioneer in Field, Chief of Navy Research on Jet-Propelled Planes, Taught Physics Experimented Three Decades Secret Work During War.". New York Times. August 11, 1945, Saturday. "Baltimore, August 10, 1945 (Associated Press) Dr. Robert H. Goddard, internationally known pioneer in rocket propulsion and chief of Navy research on jet-propelled planes, died today at University Hospital." 
  42. ^ "Goddard Memorial Association/Esther". Retrieved 2010-03-16. 
  43. ^ "WPI Experiments, Thesis, Class Song, Articles, Correspondance of and by Robert H. Goddard". Worcester Polytechnic Institute. 

External links


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