Goddards Kitty Hawk

Grants from various organizations trickled in over the next few years until finally, on March 16, 1926, the day Goddard had long been working toward came. After years of secretive labor, which included the issuing of numerous not-so-secret patents, the determined scientist successfully launched his first liquid-fueled rocket. Beginning back in 1916, some of Goddard's highly explosive experiments (many were failures) were conducted in Auburn, Massachusetts, on his aunt Effie Ward's ranch; therefore, it was in his aunt's cabbage patch that he launched this rocket. The 11-pound (5 kg) rocket was constructed from aluminum and magnesium alloy, stood within a frame 10 feet (3 m), and was built with the exhaust nozzle above the fuel tank. Goddard thought that his rocket would have a better flight if it were made to pull its own weight rather that push it.

Powered by gasoline and super-cooled liquid oxygen, the rocket flew 41 feet (12.5 m) into the air and crashed to the earth 184 feet (56 m) from the launch frame. The flight was not a perfect one, but the fact that it worked at all made Goddard ecstatic. For months afterward, he called his aunt's farm "his Kitty Hawk," comparing it to the North Carolina location where the Wright brothers conducted their first successful flight of a glider in 1900. In his usual style of secrecy, Goddard insisted that his financier, the Smithsonian Institution, keep his success a secret. Consequently, news about the first successful flight of a liquid-fueled rocket never reached the public.

By summer 1929, Goddard was back at his aunt's ranch in Auburn with a new liquid-fueled design that was another first in American history. The rocket weighed 57 pounds (26 kg), part of which was due to the addition of a camera, thermometer, and barometer. The camera was operated through a trip lever connected to the recovery parachute. In this sense, Goddard had developed America's first instrument-carrying rocket. Fame surrounding this successful launch, however, was not restricted to just this fact.

The blast from the 1929 rocket was so loud that it startled residents for miles around. The subsequent crash was even worse, as it caused a scorching grass fire in a hay field. People began fearing for their lives. Shortly afterward, the local fire marshal banned Goddard from further testing anywhere in the state of Massachusetts. Goddard received wide and unfavorable public attention as yet again the papers criticized the recent alarming antics of the "Moon Man."

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