Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes

Germany tends to get the credit for mankind's first ventures into space, having sent the first V-2 rocket above the Earth. But long before that, the theoretical groundwork was already trailblazed by American researcher Robert H. Goddard, who began studying rocketry in 1898, inspired by the writings of H.G. Wells. By 1919 he was ready to publicize his findings, and wrote a progress report for the Smithsonian Institution entitled A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes. Goddard was the first to suggest that it would be possible to create a liquid-fueled rocket of sufficient power to reach the moon. He soon became a laughing stock in the newspapers for his suggestions. Many educated men in academia and science understood that Goddard was on to something, but the average Joe Q. Public just couldn't be made to grasp the idea (How little times have changed.)

By 1929 he was past theory and actually building prototypes. As an article in the July 18, 1929 edition of Missouri's St. Joseph Gazette explains, citizens and law enforcement agents were shocked to see one of Goddard's experimental creations hurtling through the air. Having no frame for reference for such a thing, most assumed that what they were seeing must have been an airplane of some sort (How little times have changed.)

Curiously, Goddard made Roswell, New Mexico his base of operations in 1930, on a remote property called the Mescalero Ranch. The U.S. Army wasn't very interested in his research despite his repeated attempts to get their attention. However, he had the attention of the Germans and Soviets - spies from both nations were trying to learn all they could about his plans. After World War II, Goddard examined remains of a German V-2 and was certain they had built it by stealing his work. Goddard suddenly came down with throat cancer in 1945, and died just a few months later. The U.S. space agencies posthumously gave the accolades he should've receieved during his lifetime (How little times have changed.)

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