New World pioneer

Although Konstantin Tsiolkovskii is rightly acknowledged as the founder of modern rocketry, many of his ideas were unknown to contemporaries such as Robert Goddard, the American physics lecturer who, in 1926, heralded a revolution with his launch of the first liquid-fuelled rocket.

Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1882, Goddard was fascinated by physics from an early age, though his interest in spaceflight was not ignited until 1898, when he read H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds Lagging behind his schoolmates due to constant illness, Goddard nevertheless pursued his studies, which took him as far as a research fellowship at Princeton before a near-fatal bout of tuberculosis in 1913 forced a return to Worcester. Once recovered, he took a teaching post at nearby Clark University, where he had studied for his doctorate and where he would remain for the next 20 years.

Goddard realized the potential efficiency of liquid fuels in 1909 (independently of Tsiolkovskii), but his convalescence at Worcester must have inspired him to act, since it was shortly after this, in 1914, that he began to

BIGGER AND BETTER

Ooddord's rockets developed rapidly, from early tobletop models (above), through Nell, to larger, advanced designs, such as his P-series of the early 1940s (right). By this time, components were arranged in a more familiar order, with fuel tanks, topped with on aerodynamic nosecone, sitting on top of the combustion chamber.

register patents for rocket designs, including a multistage vehicle and a liquid-fuelled rocket. Unlike Tsiolkovskii's theoretical mix of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, Goddard's combination of gasoline for fuel and liquid nitrous oxide for oxidant (see panel, opposite) was practical, using the technology of the day. Once back at work, he began developing working engines, initially funding his own experiments, but later with backing from the Smithsonian Institute and, once the United States had become involved in the First World War, the Army. Experiments using small charges of solid fuel led him to discover the optimum design of rocket nozzle - a shape first proposed by Swedish engineer Gustav de Laval in 1890 for use in steam engines. Although Goddard demonstrated an early form of bazooka, the war ended before he could put many of his theories into practice.

In 1919, Goddard summarized his work so far in his book A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes. For many outside Russia, this was the first serious

ROBERT AND NELL

Goddard proudly displays the first liquid-fuelled rocket on its ladder-like support structure. The rocket is actually "bock-to-front" compared with later designs - the fuel and oxidont tanks sit at the bottom, capped by a protective cone and linked by parallel pipes to a combustion chamber at the top.

BIGGER AND BETTER

Ooddord's rockets developed rapidly, from early tobletop models (above), through Nell, to larger, advanced designs, such as his P-series of the early 1940s (right). By this time, components were arranged in a more familiar order, with fuel tanks, topped with on aerodynamic nosecone, sitting on top of the combustion chamber.

WORK AT ROSWELL

By 1940, Goddard was working on more advanced rocket designs at his Roswell laboratories. This design was one of the first to use turbopumps to force fuel into the combustion chamber at a high rote.

TECHNOLOGY

TECHNOLOGY

Nell takes flight

Despite all this, Goddard persevered, and on 16 March 1926, he saw his liquid-fuelled rocket, nicknamed Nell, take flight for the first time. The flight lasted only two and a half seconds and reached a height of 13m (41ft), but the principle had been proved.

By the late 1920s, the regular launches from Worcester were attracting a lot of attention. Goddard wanted more privacy, and through his friendship with aviator Charles Lindbergh (the first man to fly across the Atlantic), he attracted funding from financier Daniel Guggenheim that allowed him to relocate to Roswell, New Mexico. Here, he continued to improve his rockets until his death in 1945, and also worked on experimental aircraft for the US Navy. His attempts to recapture Army interest were met with indifference, though his work found a more appreciative audience in Europe Germany even attempted to plant spies among his researchers.

LIQUID-FUELLED FLIGHT

Liquid fuels are far more efficient than the black powder used in rockets before Goddard's time, but they have a number of inherent risks, since the chemicals they use are sometimes highly unstable and difficult to manufacture or store. While the fuels will frequently react with oxygen in the air, in order to be self-contained a rocket must carry a chemical oxidant onboard. As shown here, fuel and oxidant are carried in separate tanks, and travel through a network of pipes to reach the combustion chamber, where they may either react spontaneously, or require a spark in order to explode. Although modern solid-fuel rockets are far more efficient than their black-powder ancestors, liquid-fuel designs retain one key advantage - the rate of burn can be throttled up and down, and even stopped and restarted later.

... the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow."

Robert Goddard, 1904

proposal for space travel they had encountered, and Goddard had to endure a great deal of scorn, often from journalists who delighted in attacking his ignorance of basic physics when, in fact, they were revealing their own. One New York Times article of January 1920 was particularly withering, though the paper eventually saw fit to issue a retraction in 1969, on the day after the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

— liquid fuel liquid _oxidant combustion chamber exhaust gases downward movement

WORK AT ROSWELL

By 1940, Goddard was working on more advanced rocket designs at his Roswell laboratories. This design was one of the first to use turbopumps to force fuel into the combustion chamber at a high rote.

SPACEFLIGHT ADVOCATE

The most famous portrait of Goddard dates from 1924 and shows him at the blackboard at Clark University, discussing the possible use of rockets to reach the Moon. Unfortunately, Goddard's promotion of such ideas led to merciless teasing by the press.

ROCKETS AND CINEMA

Frau im Mond was only a moderate success at the cinema - lorgely because it was silent at a time when "talkies" were becoming increasingly popular. Ironically, this silent movie can claim credit for inventing the launch countdown, added to the script by Fritz Lang in order to increase tension.

OBERTH'S WORK

Hermann Oberth's book The Rocket into Interplanetary Space (above) inspired engineers such as the members of the VfR. In this photograph (right), Oberth, in the dark overalls, is standing by the rocket intended for launch at the premiere of Frau im Mond.

LIFE ON THE MOVE

Born in the Austro-Hungorian city of Hcrmannstadt (now Sibiu, Romania) in 1894, Oberth moved to Munich lor his medical training, and remained in Germany after the old empire was partitioned in 1918. He spent brief periods of his later life in Austria, Italy, and the United States, but eventually retired to Germany in 1962. He died in 1989, at the age of 95.

OBERTH'S WORK

Hermann Oberth's book The Rocket into Interplanetary Space (above) inspired engineers such as the members of the VfR. In this photograph (right), Oberth, in the dark overalls, is standing by the rocket intended for launch at the premiere of Frau im Mond.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment