Robert H. Goddard, rocket pioneer
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Dr. Robert Hutchings Goddard is considered the father of modern rocket propulsion. A physicist of great insight, Goddard also had a unique genius for invention. It is in memory of the brilliant scientist that NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland was established on May 1, 1959.
After reading the novel War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells as a young boy, he claims that he then knew he had a purpose in life. He dreamed of flight, but it wasn’t regular airplane flight, which hadn’t happened yet. He pushed himself in his studies, pass times, and life to prove that flight in space was not only possible, but that unbelievable speeds could be reached through thrust and propulsion – forces that would require powerful fuels, such as liquid oxygen or hydrogen.
As both theorist and engineer, Goddard's work anticipated many of the developments that made spaceflight possible. Two of Goddard's 214 patents — one for a multi-stage rocket design (1915), and another for a liquid-fuel rocket design (1915) — are regarded as 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, all of which allow rockets to be controlled effectively in flight.
Primitive in their day as the achievement of the Wrights, Goddard's rockets made little impression upon government officials. Only through the modest subsidies of the Smithsonian Institution and the Daniel Guggenheim Foundation, as well as the leaves of absence granted him by Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Clark University, was Goddard able to sustain his lifetime of devoted research and testing. He worked for the U.S. Navy in both World Wars. Eighteen years after his successful demonstration at Auburn, Goddard's pioneering achievements came to life in the German V-2 ballistic missile.
Robert Goddard kept most of the technical details of his inventions a secret and thus missed the chance to demonstrate his full genius. In memory of the brilliant scientist, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., was established on May 1, 1959.