Acceleration, that basic Newtonian force, played a key role in the development of space travel. From breaking the sound barrier to successfully escaping the Earth’s gravity, acceleration remained the key.
Dr. Robert H. Goddard understood this. While sitting in a cherry tree as a young boy, he envisioned launching a craft into space.
“On this day I climbed a very, very small cherry tree at the back of the barn … and as I looked toward the fields at the east, I imagined how wonderful it would be to make some device which had even the possibility of ascending to Mars, and how it would look on a small scale, if sent up from the meadow at my feet,” Goddard said in Milton Lehman’s book, “This High Man: The Life of Robert H. Goddard.”
“It seemed to me then that a weight whirling around a horizontal shaft, moving more rapidly above than below, could furnish lift by virtue of the greater centrifugal force at the top of the path.
“I was a different boy when I descended the tree from when I ascended. Existence at last seemed very purposive.”
That day-dream evolved into the breakthrough that made Goddard’s rocket unique: liquid fuel. The rocket featured in Space Center Houston’s Starship Gallery is an identical replica of the original rocket Goddard launched on March 16, 1926.
Goddard discovered that by using a mix of liquid fuels, the rocket could achieve more acceleration. With that, he was able to step a little higher up that cherry tree and propel the rest of us into space.
His first liquid-fueled rocket burned liquid oxygen and gasoline, rose 41 feet (12 meters) and traveled 184 feet (56 meters) with a top speed of 60 mph (96.5 kph). That was much faster than other rockets of his time, which used gunpowder and other solid propellants.
Goddard’s early rocket had an unfamiliar design: it had the combustion chamber and nozzle at the top of a frame made up of two vertical tubes, which carried the liquid fuel from the tanks at the bottom.
Over the next 15 years, Goddard broke six altitude records with his next 34 rocket flights, paving the way for the future of the space program. Every spacecraft and liquid fueled rocket engines today can trace their technical heritage to this early rocket and to Goddard’s ingenuity.