Robert Goddard (In full: Robert Hutchings Goddard) was an eminent American physicist and inventor. Widely regarded as the founder of modern rocketry, Goddard created the first liquid-fueled rocket. He published “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes” in 1919, a classic treatise that remains the most influential work in 20th century rocket science.
Early Life and Education:
Born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1882, Robert Goddard earned a B.S. degree in physics from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1908, and an A.M. degree in physics from Clark University in 1910. After receiving his Ph.D. in 1911, he became a very popular physics professor.
Contributions and Achievements:
Robert Goddard was the first scientist to transcend the traditional focus from the substance to be ignited to oxygen, the element essential for combustion. He established that rockets based on atmospheric oxygen can never fly in space, where the lack of oxygen will eliminate combustion. Goddard also discovered the rate of combustion depends on the amount of oxygen.
Wernher von Braun, a German physicist and a friend of Goddard, instituted the German Rocket Society in 1927, following Goddard’s March 1926 launch of a rocket fueled by gasoline and liquid oxygen. The German army started research to create a long-range missile using liquid propellants in 1931. Goddard unknowingly assisted the program by answering telephone queries from German engineers. However, by 1939, Nazi aggression alerted him.
From May to July of 1940, Goddard explained U.S. Army and Navy officials about the German threat and the necessity for the United States to produce its own long-range missiles. Although war planners largely ignored him, thinking that Germany was not capable of launching a missile across the Atlantic, Goddard worked for the navy between 1942 and 1945, as director of research in the Bureau of Aeronautics, creating experimental engines.
Later Life and Death:
Robert Goddard became a consultant for Curtiss-Wright Corporation, a leading aircraft firm, in 1943, and director of the American Rocket Society in 1944. He died of throat cancer in Baltimore, Maryland, on August 10, 1945. Goddard was 62 years old.