The Reach for New Heights

From September 1934 to October 1935, Goddard occupied himself with perfecting his gyroscopic stabilizer. By July 1935, Goddard recorded success in his improved designs for gyroscopic control, engine concept, and blast vane steering mechanisms as his A-8 and A-10 rockets reached altitudes of more than a mile. Goddard launched 14 rockets in his "A" series.

In 1936, testing began on Goddard's larger "L" series rockets as he strove to achieve high-altitude flight. At first, they were slightly shorter that the "A" series, but at 18 inches around they had doubled in diameter. The problem with the professor's efforts in achieving extreme altitude was that he could not decide on which design process was best. The professor was a highly trained physicist, it was true, but he was not as talented at engineering, and his experiments were erratic. He of course had assistants, but they were limited in what they could offer.

In the "L" series, Goddard launched a total of 30 rockets, some with gyroscopes, some without, some with a large gaseous-nitrogen tank, some with a smaller liquid-nitrogen tank. Later designs grew to more than 18 feet and were slimmed back down to a nine-inch diameter. In 1937, Goddard's L-13 rocket achieved the highest altitude of all his rockets, reaching almost 9,000 feet (2,744 m), though a problem occurred with the parachute and it tore away without serving its purpose. The last rocket of the "L" series, L-30, was the most successful. Not in terms of height, as it achieved a reported 6,565 feet (2,000 m)—about 1,500 feet (457 m) short of L-13—but in terms of flawlessness. It soared into the sky in a beautifully vertical flight with a perfect deployment of the parachute.

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