Robert H. Goddard was born on October 5, 1882, in Worcester, Massachusetts. As a youngster, Goddard enjoyed reading science fiction, which led to an illustrious career in science fact. One of his earliest ideas that would become practical reality was multi-stage spacecraft.
A career with Clark U.
Goddard graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1908, then moved on to Clark University in Worcester. He received a doctorate in physics at Clark in 1911 and forthwith began to teach physics there.
During his studies at Clark in 1909, Goddard began to make detailed calculations regarding liquid-fueled rocket engines. He believed that a combination of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen would comprise an ideal propellant. Goddard refined this and other theories between 1912 and 1913 while researching and teaching at Princeton University. He maintained scrupulous research records, the bulk of which survive.
A future patent whiz
As early as 1914, Goddard had won patents for such presently common rocket components as multi-stage rockets, combustion chambers, propellant feed systems, and exhaust nozzles. Goddard also began flight tests near Worcester, employing gunpowder-propelled rockets. Some of them reached 500-feet altitude. He applied for funds for rocket tests from the Smithsonian Institution in 1916, and received a $5,000 grant from the institution in January 1917.
Work in the war effort
When the U.S. entered World War I on April 6, Goddard went to work for the Army to design rockets that would aid in the war effort. The work, carried out in California, yielded a small, hand-held rocket launcher similar to the future bazooka. Although the rockets were ready for immediate production, the Army never ordered any, given that World War I came to a close just a few days after Goddard successfully demonstrated them. Goddard returned to Clark University at war's end.
In 1919, Goddard published "A Method Of Reaching Extreme Altitudes," which contained a detailed sampler of his research to date. It also included speculation on space flight. Considered today to be his most scholarly work, it was at the time scarcely comprehended and basically ignored by other scientists. Many in the media scoffed at his work and labeled Goddard "The Moon man," owing to his thoughts on travels to earth's nearest neighbor. Such reactions upset Goddard, who elected to pursue his rocket research in a more isolated location. Nevertheless, he accepted invitations to do rocket research for the military.
A relationship with the military
The U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance Indian Head Powder Factory in Maryland employed Goddard from 1920 through 1923. There he aided in development and testing of armor-piercing rockets and rocket-propelled depth charges. At the time, Goddard determined that a composition of liquid oxygen and gasoline were the only practical fuels for continued development of liquid-fueled rocket motors.
Following completion of his work for the Navy, Goddard returned to Worcester, where he focused on refinement of both solid and liquid rocket fuels. He also began to design and test rocket stability and guidance gadgets.
By 1924, Goddard had developed and tested a functioning liquid oxygen pump and motor. However, the unit was too small to be employed in a working rocket. Nevertheless, he was able to plan more elaborate research.
Goddard launched a 10-foot rocket from a seven-foot frame on March 16, 1926. The rocket reached an unimpressive 41 feet at an average speed of 60 m.p.h. It was in the air for only 2.5 seconds and flew a distance of 184 feet. While this flight did not compete with the performance of gunpowder-propelled rockets of years past, it remains a significant event in rocket history: Powered by a combination of liquid oxygen and gasoline, the rocket was the first to be launched using liquid fuel.
Construction of new, flight-ready rockets commenced on September 3, 1927. These featured interchangeable components and a more-sophisticated fuel injection system. The fourth launch of a liquid-fueled rocket took place on July 17, 1929. More complex than the first three, the rocket was equipped with a barometer, thermometer, and camera to record their readings during flight. The rocket reached 90 feet in an 18.5-second flight that achieved a distance of 171 feet. Thanks to a parachute, its scientific payload was retrieved intact.
However, the launch was so loud and visible that it captured public attention. Numerous locals thought an aircraft had crashed nearby. Local fire officials quickly prohibited Goddard from conducting further launches at the Auburn site.
Lindbergh's Midas touch
Charles Lindbergh visited Goddard for the first time on November 23, 1929. The aviation icon had read accounts Goddard's work and concluded that rocketry possessed great potential. Lindbergh lined up funds for Goddard's projects, which included a $50,000 grant to Clark University from the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics.
After deciding to launch his first full-time effort to build and test rockets, Goddard moved to the Mescalero Ranch near Roswell, New Mexico, in July 1930. The relocation was initially paid for by the Guggenheim grant.
The first Roswell launch occurred on December 30, 1930. The rocket measured 11 feet long by 12 inches wide and weighed 33.5 pounds with no payload. The test impressed witnesses as the rocket reached 2,000 feet and a maximum speed of 500 m.p.h. The rocket had employed a new gas-pressure tank to inject liquid oxygen and gasoline into its combustion chamber.
In June 1932, the Guggenheim grant was peremptorily canceled, owing to the Great Depression's effects. Goddard had to return to Clark University by September 1932. A grant from the Smithsonian Institution enabled him to continue laboratory testing, but not flight testing, while he was once more a professor at Clark. Goddard won additional money from the newly minted Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Foundation in September 1933. The fresh funding source also allowed more rocket tests at Roswell, which were kick-started in September 1934.
During the years leading up to World War II, Goddard permitted military officials to review his research. On May 28, 1940, he and Harry F. Guggenheim sat down with a committee of Army and Navy officials in Washington, D.C. Goddard presented a comprehensive report that outlined his advances in solid- and liquid-fueled rockets. The Army representatives dismissed the concept of long-range rockets. The Navy expressed minor interest in liquid-fueled rockets. Goddard later summed up those responses as negative. Lack of military interest in rocketry had confounded Goddard for years, but he realized that only the government had deep enough pockets to fund effective research.
At the meeting a proposal was put forth to apply advances Goddard had made in using liquid-fueled rockets to provide assisted take-off for heavy bombers and other aircraft. Although the Army was interested, they refused funding until such time that Goddard could produce his own working model of a take-off assist rocket.
By the dawn of World War II, Goddard realized he was running out of time in his effort to achieve any meaningful advances in rocketry. He had, however, won some interest from Brigadier General George H. Brett of the Air Corps Materiel Division, with whom he and Guggenheim had met on July 27, 1940.
From November 1939 through October 1941, Goddard conducted his final and most-sophisticated series of rocket tests at Roswell. He conducted his final rocket launch on May 8, 1941. As war loomed, he again offered his expertise to the U.S. military.
Meanwhile, military attitudes changed as it became clear that United States entry into the war was virtually inevitable. Rocket-assisted takeoff became known as "Jet-Assisted-Take-Off," i.e. "JATO."
In September 1941, a team headed by Goddard commenced work on contract with the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics and the Army Air Corps. In July 1942, Goddard set up operations at the Naval Engineering Experiment Station at Annapolis, Maryland. He remained there full time through July 1945. During this period, Goddard supervised development of a working liquid-fueled JATO unit for flying boats. He also was able to achieve a long-time goal to conduct a large number of tests of variable-thrust rocket engines, a vital process in JATO development.
Death and kudos
Goddard died in Baltimore, Maryland on August 10, 1945. After all he had accomplished with rocketry, Goddard never beheld the fruits of his labor. His work remained generally overlooked until years later, when it was recognized that many of his principles were being used in modern rocketry.
His research did receive attention in 1948 when his book, "Rocket Development: Liquid-Fuel Rocket Research, 1929-1941" was published posthumously. It was a follow-up to a previous book by Goddard, "Liquid-Propellant Rocket Development," which was published in 1936 and chronicled his research from 1919 to 1935.
In 1959, Goddard was posthumously honored by the U.S. Congress and received the first Louis W. Hill Space Transportation Award. Also that year, NASA named the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in his honor. In 1960, the late scientist received the Langley Medal from the Smithsonian Institution.
Vindication was won for Goddard in 1960 when the U.S. government agreed to pay his widow, Esther C. Goddard, and the Guggenheim Foundation a $1 million settlement. It had been determined that more than 200 patents granted to Goddard, then held by his heirs, had been applied to U.S. missile and rocket programs.