Robert Hutchings Goddard
Written and Edited by Cliff Lethbridge
Robert Hutchings Goddard was born on October 5, 1882 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Early in his life, Goddard was inspired by works of science fiction, primarily "War Of The Worlds" by H.G. Wells and "From The Earth To The Moon" by Jules Verne.
In 1902, while a student at South High School in Worcester, Goddard submitted an article entitled "The Navigation Of Space" to "Popular Science News". The article speculated on the possibility of rocketry and space travel.
A second submission to the magazine included speculation on multi-stage spacecraft along the same lines as those envisioned by Tsiolkovsky. Completely independent of Tsiolkovsky, Goddard realized that the reaction principle would provide a foundation for space travel.
But rather than focus entirely on theory, Goddard set out at an early age to become equipped to build and test the hardware he believed was necessary to best demonstrate the reaction principle.
Goddard graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1908, then went on to study at Clark University in Worcester. He received a doctorate of physics at Clark University in 1911 and immediately began teaching physics there.
During his studies at Clark University in 1909, Goddard began to make detailed calculations regarding liquid-fueled rocket engines. Again independent of Tsiolkovsky, he too theorized that a combination of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen would make an ideal propellant.
These theories were refined by Goddard during a year of research and teaching at Princeton University between 1912 and 1913. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Goddard kept detailed records on his research, most of which survive today.
As early as 1914, Goddard received patents for now common rocket components like combustion chambers, exhaust nozzles, propellant feed systems and multi-stage rockets. At about the same period, Goddard began flight tests using gunpowder propelled rockets near Worcester. Some of these rockets reached maximum altitudes of 500 feet.
He requested financial support for rocket tests from the Smithsonian Institution in 1916, and received a $5,000 grant from the organization in January, 1917. High-altitude rocket research was put on hold, however, when the United States entered World War I later that year.
Considered a staunch patriot until his death, Goddard went to work for the Army in 1917 with the goal of designing rockets that would aid in the war effort. The work was conducted in California, and yielded the development of a small, hand-held rocket launcher similar to what was later called the bazooka.
By September, 1918 Goddard had presented the Army Signal Corps with several options for rockets and launchers, the most simple of which could be fired from trenches. The largest version could carry an eight-pound payload a distance of about one mile.
Many of these rockets were successfully demonstrated at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland on November 7, 1918. Goddard presented solid-fueled 5, 7.5 and 50-pound rockets capable of being launched from a 5.5-foot long by 2-inch or 3-inch wide tube.
Although the rockets were available for immediate production, the Army never ordered any since World War I came to a close just a few days after Goddard was able to successfully demonstrate them. Goddard returned to Clark University upon the conclusion of the war.
In 1919, Goddard published a work entitled "A Method Of Reaching Extreme Altitudes", which contained a detailed compilation of much of the research he had completed to date. It also included speculation on the possibilities of spaceflight.
This is still considered to be his most scholarly work, but it was at the time barely understood and largely ignored by the scientific community. Members of the popular media ridiculed the work, and dubbed Goddard "the Moon man" due to his speculation on journeys to the Moon.
These reviews had a profound impact on Goddard, who vowed to carry on the bulk of his high-altitude rocket research in a secluded environment to avoid negative publicity. He did, however, accept invitations to carry on rocket research for the military.
From 1920 through 1923, Goddard worked for the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance Indian Head Powder Factory in Maryland where he aided in the development and testing of rocket propelled depth charges and armor piercing rockets.
During this period, Goddard concluded that a combination of liquid oxygen and gasoline were the only practical fuels that could be used in his continuing research in the development of liquid-fueled rocket motors.
After completing his work for the Navy, Goddard returned to Worcester, where he began focusing exclusively on the refinement of both solid and liquid fuels for rocketry. He also began the design and testing of rocket stabilization and guidance systems.
By 1924, Goddard had developed and tested a liquid oxygen pump and engine that functioned. The unit, however, was too small to actually be employed on a working rocket. But, with a working design, he began to plan more elaborate research.
Goddard successfully test fired a pressure-fed liquid oxygen engine inside the Clark University physics laboratory on December 6, 1925. The engine was attached to a small test rocket housed inside a fixed stand. The engine was fired for about 24 seconds and lifted the rocket for about 12 seconds within its stand.
After additional laboratory tests were completed, Goddard began outdoor tests with a flight-ready rocket. The work was conducted at an Auburn, Massachusetts farm owned by his Aunt Effie. Static engine tests on a fixed stand were begun on March 8, 1926.
On March 16, 1926 Goddard launched a 10-foot long rocket from a 7-foot long frame. The rocket reached a maximum altitude of 41 feet at an average velocity of 60 m.p.h. The rocket remained in the air for 2.5 seconds and flew a distance of 184 feet.
While this flight did not even come close to matching the performance of gunpowder propelled rockets of years past, it remains one of the most significant events in the history of rocketry. Powered by a combination of liquid oxygen and gasoline, the rocket launched by Goddard on March 16, 1926 was the first to ever be launched using liquid fuel.
The second flight of a liquid-fueled rocket occurred on April 3, 1926. Goddard launched a rocket similar to the first one in a flight that covered a distance of 50 feet in 4.2 seconds.
Following this flight, Goddard realized that his rocket was too small to be refined. He decided to develop larger rockets for further tests. Work was also begun on the development of a more elaborate launch tower.
The new rockets incorporated innovative technology like flow regulators, multiple liquid injection, measurement of pressure and lifting force and an electrically fired igniter to replace a gunpowder fired igniter used previously. A turntable was also designed to produce spin stabilization.
On January 18, 1927 a new larger rocket was placed on a test stand. Although it had the potential of carrying 20 times as much fuel as its predecessors, this rocket was used for static tests only. The next flight tests employed rockets that had about four times the fuel capability as the first two.
Construction of the new flight-ready rockets began on September 3, 1927. These featured interchangeable parts and an improved fuel injection system. The first four attempts at launching these rockets failed when the rockets tipped over after they were ignited and caught the tower.
However, the third launch of a liquid-fueled rocket occurred on December 26, 1928. The rocket flew a distance of 204.5 feet at a maximum velocity of about 60 m.p.h. This launch was followed by a series of tests to develop mechanisms to improve combustion chamber cooling and in-flight stability.
The fourth launch of a liquid-fueled rocket occurred on July 17, 1929. Considered much more elaborate than the first three, Goddard equipped the rocket with a barometer, thermometer and a camera to record their readings during flight. The rocket achieved a maximum altitude of 90 feet in an 18.5-second flight covering a distance of 171 feet.
The scientific payload was recovered safely via parachute. However, the launch was so noisy and bright that it captured much public attention. Many eyewitnesses believed an aircraft had crashed in the area. Local fire officials quickly forced Goddard to discontinue his launch operations at the Auburn site.
Aviation hero Charles A. Lindbergh paid his first visit to Goddard on November 23, 1929. Lindbergh had become fascinated by accounts of the work of Goddard he had read, and believed strongly that rocketry had vast and significant potential.
Lindbergh arranged financial support for Goddard, which included a $50,000 grant from the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics, paid to Clark University to fund research activities of Goddard. In addition, a smaller grant from the Carnegie Institution was received for the construction of test facilities.
In December, 1929 Goddard established a rocket test facility at Camp Devens, an artillery range located about 25 miles from Worcester. A total of 16 static engine test firings were conducted there, but no actual rocket launches.
Goddard then made a large move after deciding to embark on his first full-time effort at constructing and testing rockets. He set up shop at the Mescalero Ranch near Roswell, New Mexico in July, 1930. The relocation was initially financed through the Guggenheim grant.
Static engine tests conducted at Roswell yielded a maximum thrust of 289 pounds for about 20 seconds, with exhaust velocity of about 5,000 feet per second. These tests paved the way for a number of test launches.
The first Roswell launch occurred on December 30, 1930 using a rocket 11 feet long by 12 inches wide and weighing 33.5 pounds empty. The test was impressive as the rocket reached a maximum altitude of 2,000 feet and maximum speed of 500 m.p.h. The rocket employed a new gas pressure tank to force the liquid oxygen and gasoline into the combustion chamber.
This was followed by four more successful rocket flights from Roswell. On September 29, 1931 a rocket with a streamline casing and remote control igniter reached a maximum altitude of 180 feet in a 9.6-second flight. This rocket was 9 feet, 11 inches long by 12 inches wide.
A rocket with a simplified combustion chamber was launched on October 13, 1931. It was 7.75 feet long by 12 inches wide, reached a maximum altitude of 1,700 feet and was successfully recovered by parachute.
On October 27, 1931 a rocket employing a new gasoline shutoff valve reached a maximum altitude of 1,330 feet and covered a distance of 930 feet in an 8.3-second flight.
The final in this first series of rocket launches from Roswell occurred on April 19, 1932. This was by far the most sophisticated rocket launched by Goddard to date. Liquid oxygen and gasoline were fed into the combustion chamber by pressurized liquid nitrogen, and the rocket was stabilized in flight by gyroscope-controlled steering vanes.
This rocket measured 10 feet, 9.5 inches long by 12 inches wide. Although it did successfully test innovative technological elements, the rocket only reached a maximum altitude of 135 feet and flew for five seconds.
The Guggenheim grant was unexpectedly canceled in June, 1932 due to effects of the Great Depression. This forced Goddard to return to Clark University by September, 1932. A grant from the Smithsonian Institution allowed Goddard to continue laboratory testing, but not flight testing, while he was again a professor at Clark University.
In September, 1933 Goddard obtained additional funding from the newly established Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Foundation. This supported more detailed research on insulators, welding techniques for lighter metals, gyroscope balancers, reciprocating and centrifugal fuel pumps, jet pumps and improved combustion chambers.
The new source of funding also allowed the continuation of rocket tests at Roswell, which resumed in September, 1934. A series of tests called the "A-Series" were conducted from September, 1934 through October, 1935.
The "A-Series" tests employed rockets ranging in size from 13.5 feet to 15 feet, 3.25 inches long and weighing between 58 and 85 pounds empty. The rockets employed pressure-fed combustion chambers and were steered by gyroscopic-controlled blast vanes.
During the "A-Series" tests, one static engine test and 14 launch attempts were conducted. During the 14 launch attempts, seven rockets actually left the tower. Some results of these seven launches are as follows:
February 16, 1935 - Rocket was launched without automatic guidance; rocket crashed quickly; crash was deadened by parachute deployment.
March 8, 1935 - An equalizer was installed to keep the liquid oxygen pressure from exceeding the gasoline pressure; a pendulum stabilizer was employed; the engine fired for 12 seconds; unplanned horizontal tilt diminished altitude; maximum velocity 700 m.p.h.; recovered via 10-foot parachute 9,000 feet from launch tower.
March 28, 1935 - Rocket employed improved gyroscopic stabilizer; reached a maximum altitude of 4,800 feet; flew a distance of 13,000 feet; corrected its flight path several times; reached an average speed of 550 m.p.h.; flight lasted 20 seconds.
May 31, 1935 - Rocket employed a new lift indicator; reached a maximum altitude of 7,500 feet; flew a distance of 5,500 feet; created a 10-inch hole upon impact.
June 25, 1935 - Rocket employed a new timing device for parachute deployment; employed a new cushioned gyroscopic stabilizer; flight was cut short by high winds; flew for 10 seconds; reached a maximum altitude of 120 feet.
July 12, 1935 - Rocket employed stronger and thicker steering vanes; engine fired for 14 seconds; reached a maximum altitude of 6,600 feet; flight path correction noted at altitude of 3,000 feet; rocket crashed when parachute was torn loose.
October 29, 1935 - Rocket employed new gasoline orifices; engine fired for 12 seconds; reached maximum altitude of 4,000 feet; a "water wave" was noted in the sand when the rocket crashed.
The "A-Series" tests were followed by "K-Series" tests, which were conducted from November, 1935 through February, 1936. The "K-Series" tests consisted of ten static engine tests only, and no rockets were actually launched.
The goal of the "K-Series" tests were to refine an improved 10-inch diameter engine. The rocket used for "K-Series" tests weighed 225 pounds empty and could carry 31 pounds of liquid oxygen and 24 pounds of gasoline. During this series, a maximum thrust of 623.5 pounds and maximum exhaust velocity of 4,470 feet per second were achieved.
Rocket launches resumed during the "L-Series" tests, which were conducted from May, 1936 through August, 1938. The "L-Series" tests were divided into "Section A", "Section B" and "Section C" experiments.
The "Section A" tests in the "L-Series" were conducted from May, 1936 through November, 1936. The rockets employed the improved engines that were static tested during the "K-Series". The rockets ranged in size from 10 feet, 11 inches long to 13 feet, 6.5 inches long by 18 inches wide. Each weighed 120 to 202 pounds empty to 295 to 360 pounds full.
During the "Section A" tests in the "L-Series" a total of four static engine tests and three rocket launches were conducted. All three of the rockets left the tower, and some of the results of these three launches are as follows:
July 31, 1936 - Rocket reached a maximum altitude of 280 feet; flight lasted five seconds; achieved a distance of 300 feet.
October 3, 1936 - Rocket reached a maximum altitude of 200 feet; flight lasted five seconds; combustion chamber was completely burned through.
November 7, 1936 - Rocket employed a new combustion chamber made up of four clustered chambers each 5.75 inches wide; rocket reached a maximum altitude of 200 feet and fell near the tower.
The "Section B" tests in the "L-Series" were conducted from May, 1936 through May, 1937. The rockets employed a combustion chamber made up of four clustered chambers each 5.75 inches wide, a new tilting cap parachute release, various exposed moveable air vanes, retractable air vanes and improved parachutes with heavy shroud lines.
Rockets used were either 16 feet, 7.63 inches long by nine inches wide or 17.75 feet long by nine inches wide. During the "Section B" tests in the "L-Series", a total of two static engine tests and six rocket launches were conducted, with all six rockets leaving the tower. Some results of these six launches are as follows:
December 18, 1936 - Rocket employed a pressure storage tank; achieved a range of 2,000 feet; landed horizontally; engine noise was heard as many as eight miles away.
February 1, 1937 - Engine was fired for 20.5 seconds; rocket achieved a maximum altitude of 1,870 feet; ground behind the flame deflector turned green after being glazed by the exhaust.
February 27, 1937 - A new parachute release system was controlled by gyroscope; rocket achieved a maximum altitude of 1,500 feet and range of 3,000 feet; flight lasted 20 seconds.
March 26, 1937 - Rocket employed larger moveable air vanes; achieved a maximum altitude of between 8,000 and 9,000 feet; successfully corrected its path during flight; flight lasted 22.3 seconds.
April 22, 1937 - Rocket employed larger moveable air vanes and reinforced parachute; altitude could not be measured as the rocket flew almost straight upward; flight lasted 21.5 seconds; rocket was recovered one mile from the tower.
May 19, 1937 - Rocket employed streamlined, retractable air vanes and a wire-wound pressure storage tank to save weight; achieved a maximum altitude of 3,250 feet; stabilization was reported to be vastly improved; flight lasted 29.5 seconds.
The "Section C" tests in the "L-Series" were conducted from July, 1937 through August, 1938. Rockets used during the "Section C" tests employed light tank construction, moveable (or gimbaled) tailpiece steering, catapult assist launching and improved liquid nitrogen pressurization.
The rockets ranged in size from 17 feet, 4.25 inches long to 18 feet, 5.75 inches long by 9 inches wide. The rockets weighed from 80 to 109 pounds empty and a minimum of 170 pounds full. Static engine thrusts ranged from 228 to 477 pounds with exhaust velocities ranging from 3,960 to 5,340 feet per second.
Extremely hot exhaust temperatures were observed during the "Section C" tests. In some cases, pebbles in the cement used to construct exhaust deflectors fused and separated during flight, causing fires up to 50 feet away from the launch tower.
During the "Section C" tests in the "L-Series", a total of seven static engine tests and eight rocket launches were conducted, during which all eight rockets left the tower. Some results of these eight launches are as follows:
July 28, 1937 - Rocket employed moveable tailpiece steering, wire-wound pressure storage tanks and carried a barograph; achieved maximum altitude of 2,055 feet; parachute did not open until the rocket neared the ground; flight lasted 28 seconds; rocket was recovered 1,000 feet from the tower.
August 26, 1937 - Catapult assist launching was employed; achieved a maximum altitude of 2,000 feet; rocket corrected its flight path seven times during the flight.
November 24, 1937 - Rocket leaned after leaving the tower and crashed about 100 feet away.
March 6, 1938 - Rocket reached a maximum altitude of 500 feet before the engine shut down prematurely, causing an uncontrolled coasting.
March 17, 1938 - Rocket achieved a maximum altitude of 2,170 feet; flight lasted 15 seconds; rocket was recovered 3,000 feet from the tower.
April 20, 1938 - Rocket carried a barograph; engine was fired for 25.3 seconds; achieved maximum altitude of 4,215 feet; rocket was recovered 6,960 feet from the tower.
May 26, 1938 - Rocket veered after leaving tower; achieved a maximum altitude of 140 feet; rocket was recovered 600 feet from the tower.
August 9, 1938 - Maximum altitude of 4,920 feet was estimated via telescope; on-board barograph recorded a maximum altitude of 3,294 feet; flight path corrected well during the flight; parachute opened at the top of the trajectory.
At the conclusion of the "L-Series" tests, Goddard began a focused study on the development of improved fuel pumps. He believed that the proper fuel pumps were critical if rockets were to achieve effective and enduring high-altitude performance.
From October, 1938 through November, 1938 Goddard made a thorough study of five small, high-speed centrifugal fuel pumps. From January, 1939 through February, 1939 he conducted proving stand tests on two of these pumps, which were called A and D.
These tests indicated that a small chamber or gas generator producing warm oxygen gas should be used to operate turbines in the fuel pumps. From March, 1939 through August, 1939 more static engine tests were conducted to test a new gas generator employing drive pump turbines.
From November, 1939 through October, 1941 Goddard conducted his final and most sophisticated series of rocket tests at Roswell. This series of tests was not identified by letter or number as previous tests had been.
Rockets used during this series of tests incorporated engines, pumps and turbines that had been previously refined. The rockets were all about 22 feet long by 18 inches wide and weighed 190 to 240 pounds empty. Each could carry 140 pounds of liquid oxygen and 112 pounds of gasoline.
During this series of tests, a total of 15 static engine tests and nine rocket launches were conducted. Of the rockets launched, just two left the tower. The maximum thrust achieved during static engine tests was 985 pounds, which was achieved on January 6, 1941. Some of the results of the two successful launches are as follows:
August 9, 1940 - Rocket employed improved fuel pumps; achieved a maximum altitude of 300 feet at a speed of just 10 to 15 m.p.h.
May 8, 1941 - Rocket employed improved fuel pumps; achieved a maximum altitude of 250 feet before veering off course.
Robert Hutchings Goddard conducted his last rocket launch on May 8, 1941. As war loomed on the horizon, he again offered his expertise to the United States military.
In the years approaching World War II, Goddard had agreed to allow military officials to review his research. On May 28, 1940 Goddard and Harry F. Guggenheim had met with a joint committee of Army and Navy officials in Washington, D.C.
A complete report was given to these officials by Goddard which outlined his advances in both solid-fueled and liquid-fueled rockets. The Army rejected the prospect of long-range rockets altogether. The Navy expressed a minor interest in liquid-fueled rockets. Goddard later characterized these responses as negative.
Neither branch of service was interested in an innovative rocket aircraft that had been patented by Goddard on June 9, 1931. The lack of military interest in rocketry had confounded Goddard for years, since he understood that only the government had adequate resources to fund proper research.
By the dawn of World War II, Goddard realized he was running out of time in his effort to achieve any meaningful advances in rocketry. Goddard had, however, stimulated some interest from Brigadier General George H. Brett of the Air Corps Materiel Division, with whom he and Guggenheim had met on July 27, 1940.
At the meeting, a proposal had been made to apply advances Goddard had made in liquid-fueled rockets to the problem of providing assisted take-off for heavy bombers and other aircraft. Although the Army was interested, they refused funding until such time as Goddard could produce his own working model of a take-off assist rocket.
However, military attitudes changed as it became clear that United States entry into the war was not a matter of if, but when. The concept of rocket assisted take-off became known as "Jet-Assisted-Take-Off", or "JATO".
In September, 1941 a team headed by Goddard began working under a contract with the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics and the Army Air Corps. In July, 1942 Goddard set up shop at the Naval Engineering Experiment Station at Annapolis, Maryland. He remained there on a full-time basis through July, 1945.
During this period, Goddard supervised the development of a working liquid-fueled JATO unit for flying boats. He was also able to fulfill a long-time goal of making a large number of tests of variable thrust rocket engines, a process which had become vital in JATO development.
Goddard died in Baltimore, Maryland on August 10, 1945. After all he had managed to accomplish in the field of rocketry, Goddard never witnessed the fruits of his labor. His work remained relatively overlooked until years later, when it was recognized that many of his principles were being used in modern rocketry.
His research did receive some attention in 1948 when his book, "Rocket Development: Liquid-Fuel Rocket Research, 1929-1941" was published posthumously. This was a follow-up to a previous book by Goddard, "Liquid-Propellant Rocket Development" which was published in 1936 and chronicled his research from 1919 to 1935.
In 1959, Goddard was honored by the United States Congress and posthumously received the first Louis W. Hill Space Transportation Award of the now defunct Institute of Aeronautical Sciences.
On May 1, 1959 NASA named the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland after Goddard. In 1960, Goddard posthumously received the Langley Medal from the Smithsonian Institution.
Another great tribute was paid to Goddard literally in 1960 when the United States government agreed to pay his widow, Esther C. Goddard and the Guggenheim Foundation a $1 million settlement. It had been determined that over 200 patents granted to Goddard and held by his heirs had been applied to United States missile and rocket programs.
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