Robert Hutchings Goddard

(1882—1945) American physicist

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US rocket engineer, who produced the first successful liquid-fuel rocket.

Goddard was educated in his home town of Worcester, Massachusetts, at Clark University, where he gained his PhD in 1911 and became professor of physics in 1919. It soon became apparent to Goddard that solid-fuel propellants were too heavy, bulky, and inefficient to power a space flight that he dreamed of. In his classic paper of 1919, A Method of Reaching Extremely High Altitudes, he therefore proposed the use of liquid fuels. He went on to design practical rockets and in 1926 actually succeeded in launching a rocket powered with petrol and liquid oxygen to a height of twelve metres. He also envisaged a multi-stage rocket.

Although he gained financial support from the Smithsonian, the military authorities showed no interest. Goddard therefore continued on his own and in 1937 one of his rockets attained a height of 37 kilometres. Again, with the outbreak of World War II, Goddard tried to interest the War Department in his work but rockets that could fly only a few kilometres were of no interest to a country fighting enemies thousands of miles away. Goddard did, however, live long enough to see a captured German V-2 rocket in 1945. Although it was larger and vastly more powerful than his own models, he was gratified to note the similarity in the design to his own plans. Some fifteen years after his death Goddard's widow received one million dollars from the US government for the use they had made in the space programme of the hundred or so patents Goddard had prudently taken out.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics — History.

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