The age of rockets began on March 16, 1926, when Robert H. Goddard launched the world’s first liquidfuel rocket at a farm in Auburn, Massachusetts.
Goddard had become fascinated with the idea of space travel as a boy when he read H. G. Wells’s science fiction classic War of the Worlds. As a student and then a physics professor, he experimented with different rocket designs. His work went virtually unnoticed. In fact, the most publicity he received was when the New York Times, hearing of his theory that someday a rocket might reach the moon, printed a jeering editorial declaring that Dr. Goddard “seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.”
Goddard kept at his work. For nearly twenty years he tried experiment after experiment. None of the rockets he built would fly. Then came the cold March day in 1926 when he drove to his aunt Effie’s farm, set up a ten-foot-tall rocket he had dubbed Nell, and lit the fuse.
For an instant the missile did nothing, then suddenly screeched off the pad, shot 41 feet into the air at 60 miles per hour, and thumped down in a cabbage patch 184 feet away. The flight lasted only two and a half seconds, but it was two and a half seconds that ultimately led human beings into outer space.
In the following years Goddard kept developing his rockets, shooting them higher and faster. He continued to work in relative obscurity. Not until after his death in 1945 did the world realize his achievements. Rockets based on Goddard’s work eventually carried men to the moon.
Today Robert Goddard is remembered as the father of modern rocketry. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is named in his honor.