March 16, 2013 - Goddard Day

3 – 2 – 1 – Liftoff!

On this date in 1926, Robert Goddard successfully launched the first liquid-fuel-powered rocket.

Did he get fame and support for his revolutionary invention? Yes!

But he didn't get a whole lot of support during his lifetime.

Goddard won the Langley Gold Medal and the Congressional gold medal, and his name was honored with a crater on the moon, a high school, and an important NASA facility. Goddard has even been honored on a postage stamp and on the show Star Trek: The Next Generation.

But all these medals and honors came after his death!

During the time when he was pushing the boundaries of space and Earth's atmosphere with 34 rockets, Goddard was publicized in newspapers but also criticized and even ridiculed.

Even though Goddard was able to secure a position at Clark University in Massachusetts and a sponsorship from the Smithsonian Institution, and even though his rocket launches were successful, eventually climbing higher than a mile (2.6 km) and reaching speeds up to 550 mph (885 km/h)—even with all of those hints that the guy knew what he was talking about, newspaper journalists and the general public scoffed at his far-out ideas.

Goddard thought we could send people in a rocket to the moon. Journalists laughed at the idea; they said that, once the rocket traveled out of the Earth's atmosphere, there would be nothing to “push against.” One New York Times editorial sarcastically said that Goddard only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.” Of course we all know now that the Times was wrong, and Goddard was right—and the day after the successful Apollo 11 launch, in 1969, 49 years after this sneering editorial was published, the Times printed “A Correction,” saying that “TheTimes regrets the error.”

Goddard shied away from publicity, since his work had been sensationalized and then mocked, but in private letters he talked about the possibility of sending fly-by probes to visit the Moon and planets, sending messages to possible aliens on inscribed metal plates, the use of solar energy in space, ion propulsion, and an ablative heat shield for landing a spacecraft.

Every one of these ideas has now been realized.

Here are two wise quotes from Goddard:

"Every vision is a joke until the first man accomplishes it; once realized, it becomes commonplace."
    "It is not a simple matter to differentiate unsuccessful from successful experiments. . . .[Most] work that is finally successful is the result of a series of unsuccessful tests in which difficulties are gradually eliminated."

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