Man with a Secret Mission

In 1912, Goddard accepted a research fellowship at Princeton University's Palmer Physical Laboratory. Though the university was supportive to any fresh ideas he wished to pursue, Goddard was reluctant to reveal his rocketry plans. Only in his private time did he work on the physics of propelling mass. During the day at the laboratory, he conducted experiments on displacement currents. In August 1912, Goddard applied for a patent on a charged-particle generator, or an oscillator, an early form of the radio tube. The success of this first patent brought about a degree of confidence to the point that by March 1913, despite a severe bout of tuberculosis that kept him bedridden for much of that year, he began working to prepare a patent application for a rocket propulsion design.

By July 1914, the patent office had issued him two patents. The first, labeled "Rocket Apparatus," was for a multistage rocket. The second, also called "Rocket Apparatus," was for a cartridge-feeding mechanism that introduced successive charges to attain lift, and also included a modification for pumping liquid fuel and an oxidiz-er into a combustion chamber. In his lifetime, Goddard would eventually be awarded 214 patents in rocketry, 131 of them after his death, most related to liquid-fueled rocket designs and their associated controls components, fuel pumps, motors, and guidance devices. At this stage in his life, though, his beginning designs were theoretical—they had yet to be put to a real test.

In the fall, after recovering from his illness, Goddard declined a further position at Princeton and took a seat as a part-time physics instructor teaching undergraduates at Clark University. He would later go on to become head of the university's physics department and director of its physical laboratories. At Clark University, Goddard was free to create and build in the school's physics shop, expanding the designs of old rockets to accommodate his conceptions of a more powerful means of propulsion. Efficiency was always the rule, for Goddard's experiments were funded entirely from his own pocket.

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