When the space shuttle’s three main engines thundered to
life last week during the launch of Discovery, their roar not
only marked astronauts’ once again venturing into space but
also trumpeted a salute to the man whose vision made such a
journey possible.

Seventy-five years ago, March 16, 1926, Dr. Robert H. Goddard
successfully launched the first liquid-fueled rocket. Milton
Lehman’s book about the life of Robert Goddard, “This High
Man,” notes that his flight of the first liquid-fueled rocket
has been called “a feat as epochal in history as that of the
Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk.”

“That flight became the underpinning of everything that we
are able to do in space today, and which we take for
granted,” said William Townsend, deputy director of the NASA
facility named after the rocket pioneer, the Goddard Space
Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. “Dr Goddard was a true
visionary, having already visualized flight in outer space by
the time he was 21 (1903). He was also persistent, since it
took him until 1926 to achieve the monumental accomplishment
embodied in that first flight some 75 years ago.”

“Many people date the beginning of the space age from the
launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957. One could also say
that it really began when Robert Goddard successfully
launched the first liquid-fueled rocket,” added Chief
Historian Dr. Roger Launius, NASA Headquarters, Washington,
DC. “Liquid-fueled rockets are what makes if possible to
reach the high frontier of space, and Goddard recognized
before virtually anyone else that developing that technology
was critical to exploring it.”

Goddard’s 10-foot long rocket utilized gasoline and liquid
oxygen for its flight. While his creation weighed only 10 1/2
pounds (4.5 kg), including fuel, and flew just over 40 feet
(12 m) in altitude, it utilized the same basic technology
that would later allow the 6 million-pound Saturn V rocket to
carry men 239,000 miles (384,000 km) to the moon.

In addition to the space shuttle, most unmanned rockets that
deliver spacecraft and satellites to Earth orbit or to the
paths of their inter-planetary expeditions utilize a liquid
propulsion system.

The successful use of a liquid-fuel propulsion system was one
of Goddard’s many significant achievements. During his
lifetime, he designed, built and launched thirty-five rockets
of increasing sophistication. Goddard improved his sounding
rockets’ designs, developing turbo-pump systems; gyro-
stabilization; aerodynamic and jet-deflector flight controls;
automatic sequencing launch systems; flight trajectory
tracking and recording devices; gimbal-mounted clustered
rocket motors; and parachute recovery systems.

Townsend added, “Today, the Goddard Space Flight Center
continues to be driven in its pursuit of excellence by the
inspiration of Dr. Goddard, perhaps best represented by Dr.
Goddard’s famous words, ‘The dream of yesterday is the hope
of today and the reality of tomorrow.’ The women and men here
at Goddard are proud to be bringing reality to his vision of
exploration and discovery.”

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Editor’s Note: NASA Video File broadcasts the week of March
12-16 will include footage honoring the anniversary. On March
16, NASA Chief Historian Roger Launius and Tom Crouch from
the National Air and Space Museum will be available for live
interviews on NASA Television. To book an interview, please
contact Public Affairs at 301/286-0918. The NASA TV signal is
broadcast on GE-2, transponder 9C, C-Band, located at 85
degrees West longitude. The frequency is 3880.0 MHz.
Polarization is vertical and audio is monaural at 6.8 MHz.