Robert Hutchings Goddard life and biography

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Robert Hutchings Goddard biography

Date of birth : 1882-10-05
Date of death : 1945-08-10
Birthplace : Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
Nationality : American
Category : Science and Technology
Last modified : 2010-05-27
Credited as : Physicist and inventor, father of aeronautics, first liquid-fueled rocket

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Robert Hutchings Goddard (October 5, 1882 – August 10, 1945) was an American professor, physicist and inventor who is credited with creating and building the world's first liquid-fueled rocket, which he successfully launched on March 16, 1926. Goddard and his team launched 34 rockets between 1926 and 1941, achieving altitudes as high as 2.6 km (1.62 miles) and speeds as high as 885 km/h (550 mph).

Known to the world as the father of aeronautics, Robert Goddard became obsessed with man’s potential for flight in outer space at a very young age. He would later provide the groundwork for the design of what are now modern rockets and space shuttles.



Along with Konstantin Eduordovich Tsiolkovsky of Russia and Hermann Oberth of Germany, Goddard envisioned the exploration of space. A physicist of great insight, Goddard also had an unique genius for invention.

By 1926, Goddard had constructed and tested successfully the first rocket using liquid fuel. Indeed, the flight of Goddard's rocket on March 16,1926, at Auburn, Massachusetts, was a feat as epochal in history as that of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk. Yet, it was one of Goddard's "firsts" in the now booming significance of rocket propulsion in the fields of military missilery and the scientific exploration of space.

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 of 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.

Goddard first obtained public notice in 1907 in a cloud of smoke from a powder rocket fired in the basement of the physics building in Worcester Polytechnic Institute. School officials took an immediate interest in the work of student Goddard. They, to their credit, did not expel him. He thus began his lifetime of dedicated work.

In 1914, Goddard received two U.S. patents. One was for a rocket using liquid fuel. The other was for a two or three stage rocket using solid fuel. At his own expense, he began to make systematic studies about propulsion provided by various types of gunpowder. His classic document was a study that he wrote in 1916 requesting funds of the Smithsonian Institution so that he could continue his research. This was later published along with his subsequent research and Navy work in a Smithsonian Miscellaneous Publication No. 2540 (January 1920). It was entitled "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes." In this treatise, he detailed his search for methods of raising weather recording instruments higher than sounding balloons. In this search, as he related, he developed the mathematical theories of rocket propulsion.

Towards the end of his 1920 report, Goddard outlined the possibility of a rocket reaching the moon and exploding a load of flash powder there to mark its arrival. The bulk of his scientific report to the Smithsonian was a dry explanation of how he used the $5000 grant in his research. Yet, the press picked up Goddard' s scientific proposal about a rocket flight to the moon and erected a journalistic controversy concerning the feasibility of such a thing. Much ridicule came Goddard's way. And he reached firm convictions about the virtues of the press corps which he held for the rest of his life. Yet, several score of the 1750 copies of the 1920 Smithsonian report reached Europe. The German Rocket Society was formed in 1927, and the German Army began its rocket program in 1931. Goddard's greatest engineering contributions were made during his work in the 1920's and 1930's (see list of historic firsts). He received a total of $10,000 from the Smithsonian by 1927, and through the personal efforts of Charles A. Lindbergh, he subsequently received financial support from the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Foundation. Progress on all of his work was published in "Liquid Propellant Rocket Development," which was published by the Smithsonian in 1936.

Goddard's work largely anticipated in technical detail the later German V-2 missiles, including gyroscopic control, steering by means of vanes in the jet stream of the rocket motor, gimbalsteering, power-driven fuel pumps and other devices. His rocket flight in 1929 carried the first scientific payload, a barometer, and a camera. Goddard developed and demonstrated the basic idea of the "bazooka" two days before the Armistice in 1918 at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. His launching platform was a music rack. Dr. Clarence N. Hickman, a young Ph.D. from Clark University, worked with Goddard in 1918 provided continuity to the research that produced the World War II bazooka. In World War II, Goddard again offered his services and was assigned by the U.S. Navy to the development of practical jet assisted takeoff NATO) and liquid propellant rocket motors capable of variable thrust. In both areas, he was successful. He died on August 10,1945, four days after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan.

Goddard was the first scientist who not only realized the potentialities of missiles and space flight but also contributed directly in bringing them to practical realization. This rare talent in both creative science and practical engineering places Goddard well above the opposite numbers among the European rocket pioneers. The dedicated labors of this modest man went largely unrecognized in the United States until the dawn of what is now called the "space age." High honors and wide acclaim, belated but richly deserved, now come to the name of Robert H. Goddard.

On September 16, 1959, the 86th Congress authorized the issuance of a gold meal in the honor of Professor Robert H. Goddard.

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.


Born to a bookkeeper, the young Robert was fascinated with the newest machinery of the day. While growing up, his inventoins and creativity were promoted by his family. After high school, he attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute and came up with a theory about how transportation of the future would be done through hovering by the forces of electromagnets.


At Clark University he studied for his doctorate –knowing that the more connections he made and the more he learned, the more he’d be able to continue his studies for the rest of his life. At Clark he taught physics and worked with students on his ideas for rockets. He also showed his fellow colleagues how thrust and propulsion could take place without the presence of air, in a vacuum, similar to what would be encountered in outer space.


Robert Goddard had to get some public attention to get funding for his experiments. The Smithsonian Institution was able to donate, and Charles Lindbergh, who had seen how far and fast the Russians were advancing in their aeronautical programs, was able to garnish great support from the Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics. His small group was able to work in Roswell, New Mexico, in the United States. While there, he proved that a liquid-powered rocket could go faster than the speed of sound. He patented several of his inventions, including engines, coolers, and prototypes that would fly higher than any rocket before. In World War II, he was forced to stop his experiments and worked in the development on the modern jet-thrust booster.



Robert H. Goddard's basic contribution to missilery and space flight is a lengthy list. As such, it is an eloquent testimonial to his lifetime of work in establishing and demonstrating the fundamental principles of rocket propulsion.


* First explored mathematically the practicality of using rocket propulsion to reach high & altitudes and even the moon (1912);

* First proved, by actual static test, that a rocket will work in a vacuum, that it needs no air to push against;

* First developed and shot a liquid fuel rocket, March 16,1926;

* First shot a scientific payload (barometer and camera) in a rocket flight (1929, Auburn, Massachusetts);

* First used vanes in the rocket motor blast for guidance (1932, New Mexico);

* First developed gyro control apparatus for rocket flight (1932, New Mexico);

* First received U.S. patent in idea of multi-stage rocket (1914);

* First developed pumps suitable for rocket fuels;

* First launched successfully a rocket with a motor pivoted on gimbals under the influence of a & gyro mechanism (1937).

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