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History Of Rockets

Although the first successful flights of liquid-based rockets did not happen until 1939, solid rockets had flown some 700 years before any aircraft! In the 13th Century the Chinese shot off the first recorded "fire arrows" and terrified invading Mongols. By the time of the renaissance a century or so late, Europe had learned the principle. They were mostly used for military applications such as setting fire to ships. By the 18th century, the British had employed rockets for the attack on Fort McHenry near Baltimore in 1814, producing the "rockets red glare" that was immortalized in the "Star-Spangled Banner". The rockets of past centuries and those now traveling in space are based on precisely the exact same principle; the only difference is in the level of sophistication.

The most extraordinary rocket-story started in two different countries separated by an ocean: Germany and the United States of America. In Germany a brilliant scientist named Wernher von Braun led the project that produced the world's first liquid-fuel missile; the infamous V-2 rocket. This rocket rain death on Great Britains big cities as it travel hundreds of miles to deliver a 1000 LB high-explosive warhead in 1942. It was the first time that ballistic missiles were used in war time. This project was carried out with the cooperation of more than 10,000 engineer and scientists in Germany.

The German V-2 rocket.

On the western hemisphere a man driven by his childhood dream of interplanetary flight, Dr. Robert Hutchings Goddard and a team of no more than seven, had began there efforts to build a rocket as early as 1916. Aided by a grant from the Smithsonian Institution he began testing rockets. As early as 1939 he had successfully tested several types of rockets. Goddard and a team of no more than seven had successfully accomplished what a team of 10,000 German scientist with a budget of millions accomplished three years after him. But it was not until 1950 when Wernher von Braun (the brilliant German rocket-scientist) was brought to the United States after the war in order to review Dr. Goddard's patented rocket that he exclaimed: "Indeed Goddard was ahead of us ...".

In the following sections you will find more in-depth material on rocketry spanning almost 1000 years.  The material comes from two sources, NASA's Lewis Research Center and the Marshall Space Flight Center.  The material from both sites complement each other and visiting both pages will give you a fuller view of the rich history of rocketry.

rkt_icon.gif (951 bytes)Rocket History

rkt_icon.gif (951 bytes)A Brief History of Rocketry

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Updated: March 12, 2004