Birthday: October 5, 1882
Died At Age: 62
Sun Sign: Libra
Also Known As: Robert Hutchings Goddard
Born in: Worcester, Massachusetts, United States
Famous as: Physicist
Spouse/Ex-: Esther Christine Kisk
father: Nahum Danford Goddard
mother: Fannie Louise Hoyt
siblings: Richard Henry Goddard
Died on: August 10, 1945
place of death: Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Cause of Death: Laryngeal Cancer
U.S. State: Massachusetts
discoveries/inventions: Rocket Engine, Liquid-propellant Rocket
education: Clark University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, South High Community School
awards: Daniel Guggenheim Medal
Congressional Gold Medal
National Aviation Hall of Fame
National Inventors Hall of Fame
Robert Hutchings Goddard was an American professor, physicist and inventor, best remembered as the father of modern rocketry. He successfully launched his first rocket on 16th March 1926, beginning an era of space flight and innovation. Between 1926 and 1941, he along with his team launched 34 rockets that achieved altitudes as high as 2.6 km, reaching speeds as fast as 885 km/hr. It was his work throughout the years—both as a theorist as well as an engineer—that helped make space flight possible. The multi-stage rocket and the liquid-fueled rocket are considered two of his most significant inventions. Despite his revolutionary work, he received very little moral or financial support from the public. Some of his theories regarding space flight were even ridiculed by the press and other scientists. However, several years after he passed away, people started regarding him as one of the founding fathers of modern rocketry. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has been named after him. In 1966, he was inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame and ten years later, into the International Space Hall of Fame.
Childhood & Early Life
Robert H. Goddard was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on 5th October 1882. His parents were Nahum Danford Goddard and Fannie Louise Hoyt. They also had another child who unfortunately passed away due to a spinal deformity before his first birthday.
As American cities got electrified in the 1880s, Goddard developed an interest in science, especially engineering and technology. His father showed him how to generate static electricity on the carpet when he was five, and this helped kindle his imagination even more. He started doing several experiments in his childhood, including ones with kites and balloons.
Robert H. Goddard developed an interest in space at the age of sixteen after he read the science fiction classic ‘The War of the Worlds’ by HG Wells. He once climbed a cherry tree to cut off the dead limbs and was transfixed by the view of the sky from the treetop. This further fueled his fascination with the sky. He also became a voracious reader and regularly visited the public library to borrow books on the physical sciences.
He suffered from various ailments, such as stomach problems, pleurisy, colds and bronchitis, which affected his formal studies. Despite this, he excelled in his studies at the South High Community School. He was twice elected as the class president as well. At the school library, he used to study books on mathematics, astronomy, mechanics and composition.
In 1904, he enrolled at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The head of the department was impressed with him, and he was taken on as a laboratory assistant and tutor. He also joined the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. He received his BS degree in physics in 1908, and served there as a physics instructor for a year.
Robert H. Goddard later attended Clark University and received an MA in physics in 1910. He stayed on at the university to complete his PhD and spent another year there as an honorary fellow in physics. In 1912, he accepted a research fellowship at Princeton University’s Palmer Physical Laboratory.
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Robert H. Goddard eventually started carrying out rocket experiments. In his laboratory, he became the first to prove that thrust and consequent propulsion could take place in a vacuum. He also became the first one to explore the ratios of energy and thrust per weight of various fuels, including liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.
In his work, ‘A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes’, which was published in 1919, he described his mathematic theories of rocket flight as well as his experiments with solid-fueled rockets. He also described the possibilities he saw exploring Earth’s atmosphere and even beyond. Around 1,750 copies were distributed worldwide.
The publication of his document gained him national attention from newspapers in US, though most of it was negative. Although Goddard’s discussion of targeting the moon was just a small part of the work as a whole and was only intended as a possibility rather than an intent, the newspapers overly sensationalized it, to the point of misrepresentation and ridicule.
Robert H. Goddard went on to become the first person to develop a rocket motor using liquid fuels. On 16th March 1926, the world’s first flight of a liquid-propelled rocket engine took place in a farm in Auburn, Massachusetts. It was a huge achievement for Goddard. His research in space technology surpassed even the work done by the Russians and Germans in this field.
In 1935, he became the first person to shoot a liquid-fueled rocket faster than the speed of sound. His small rockets, early prototypes of the modern moon thrusters, managed to achieve altitudes up to 1.6 km above the prairies.
During the First World War, he had proposed to the army an idea for a tube-based rocket launcher as a light infantry weapon. Along with Dr. Clarence N. Hickman, he demonstrated his rocket to the US Army Signal Corps, which really impressed the army. However, the development was discontinued as the war ended soon after.
During the Second World War, he again offered his work to the military. However, nothing concrete came out of this proposal.
Family & Personal Life
Robert H. Goddard married Esther Christine Kisk on 21st June 1924. They apparently had a happy married life and remained married till his death. They had no children. Esther was also very enthusiastic about Goddard’s work. After his death, she helped sort out his papers and secured 131 additional patents on his work.
Before his marriage to Esther, Goddard was in a relationship with his classmate Miriam Olmstead. They were even engaged for a while before ending their relationship.
Robert H Goddard died in 1945, due to throat cancer.
It was only after many years of his death that his work was acknowledged by the government of the United States. The Goddard Memorial Library, located at the Clark University, was named in his honor.