The origin of the Rocket Rockets in Europe Rocket designers Rockets in WWII and beyond Space exploration
The History of the Rocket
The origin of the rocket:
The story of the rocket started some 2400 years ago; the earliest being in the form of gunpowder, which was a highly volatile mixture that came from China in the late third century. It all happened at a Chinese ceremonial fire where people used to throw bamboo tube into the fire where they would explode, making a very loud noise and hopefully frightening all of the evil spirits away. These bamboo tubes were filled with salt-pepper, sulphur and charcoal. Not often, but occasionally a few of these bamboo tubes were not sealed properly and this caused them to, instead of exploding skittering out of the fire and into the night sky. Written records state that by 1045AD, the Chinese military were already using rockets as a weapon, though the rocket may have been used long before this. In the Chinese army these ‘rockets' were known as fire sticks. The Army used the fire sticks in the battle of Kai-fung-fu in 1232AD to defend themselves from Mongolian invaders. These rockets are recorded as being very large and very powerful. A report even says that ‘When the rocket was lit, it made a noise that resembled thunder and could be heard for five leagues (which was about fifteen miles). When it fell to earth, the point of impact was devastated for 2000 feet in all directions." These large army rockets contained flammable material and pieces of iron shrapnel; creating a greater, more devastating impact.
The rocket didn’t arrive in Europe until the year 1241AD, where early reports place it at a battle between the Mongols and the Magyar forces. Accounts of the battle state that the Mongols were using toxic smoke screens. (These could also be the first recorded use of chemical warfare.) Later in 1258AD, rockets started to appear in Arab literature where, on February the 15th, the Mongols are said to have used them in their capture of Baghdad. After this attack by the Mongols the Arab’s adopted the rockets into their armies. The Arab’s used these rockets in 1268 against the 7th crusade; against the French armies. The historic circle was completed when the rocket came to Italy. The Italians are credited with the use of military style rockets as festive fireworks, coming back to how the Chinese used them 1700 years earlier. The rocket was passed along from country to country, it reached France in 1429 when the French army used them at the siege of Orleans, in the hundred year war against the English. Rockets then travelled into Holland in 1650 and Germany 1668.
In 1730 a German field artillery colonel, Christoph Ferdrich von Geissler, started manufacturing rockets, which weighed between 55 and 120 pounds. The British, in their fighting against Napoleon, used a series of attacking rockets that they had adapted. Surprisingly, Napoleon never caught on to the idea of rockets which is due to the fact that he did not believe in the use of new technology over the traditional cannons.
The British also used a huge number, in fact approximately 25000 rockets against the Danes in the battle of Copenhagen where many of the Danes houses and warehouses were destroyed. It was not until 1818 that an official rocket brigade was created by and for the British army.
At the battle of Bladensburg in 1812, rockets were brought to America when the British 85th light infantry used them against the American Rifle Battalion. A British Lieutenant George R. Gleig made a comment about that day saying “never did men with arms in their hands make better use of their legs."
On July 3rd 1862, rockets, for the first time were brought into the American Civil War when Major General J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate Cavalry fired rockets at Major General George B. McClellan’s Union troops at Harrison’s Landing. A story is told in a book titled ‘Our Incredible Civil War' about that day, in this story it told about the Confederate army attempting to launch a ballistic from a point outside Richmond, Virginia. According to the author a 12 foot long, solid fuelled rocket carrying a 10 pound gunpowder warhead in a brass case with the letters C.S.A engraved on the side was ignited and was seen to have roared up and up and out of sight.
It was not until the First World War when the first rockets were deployed from aeroplanes, to shoot down German Zepplins. These attempts were largely futile for the simple fact that they hardly ever worked and were dangerous because they were fired from highly flammable aircraft whose wings where made from cloth and covered with varnish. The French were first to use the aerial rockets en masse. From 1920 to 1930, liquid propelled rockets were being developed, experimented and constructed by American Robert Goddard and German Wernher Von Braun.
A man who played a major part in the history of the rocket; Wernher Von Braun, had an interest in rocketry at a young age. When he was 13, he landed in the hands of the law after attaching six skyrockets to a red toy wagon and setting them off. The ‘rocket wagon' ended up exploding in the centre of the Von Braun’s family town. At the age of 22 Von Braun got his doctorate in Physics and by the age of 24 he was directing the German Militaries Rocket Development Program. Working with this organization he and his colleagues produced many experimental designs; of which the most famous of all was his A4 rocket, otherwise known as the Vengeance weapon number two or V2 for short. This rocket, the V2, was the first successful long range ballistic missile and Von Braun was the man who was credited as the principal developer. In 1946 Von Braun and his team arrived in White Sand’s, where he learned of the work done by the American rocket pioneer Robert Goddard.
Goddard, like Von Braun, had an interest in rocketry at a very early age. His interest started in the year of 1898 at the age of 16. By the time the Write Brothers were preparing to become the first men to fly, Goddard had already started to design rockets with the theoretical ability to probe the upper atmosphere and to go deeper into space.
In Russia there was a school teacher by the name of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, with similar thoughts to Goddard. Strangely they had both come to the same conclusion, that in order to send a rocket through the atmosphere the rocket would need to be propelled by liquid fuels because solid fuel just didn’t have the amount of power needed to escape the Earth's gravitational pull. The problem that Tsiolkovsky had was that he didn’t have the practicality of Goddard and whilst he made all the plans for these rockets, he never built them; whereas Goddard actually built many of his rockets.
In 1919 Goddard wrote a paper titled ‘A Method of Reaching Extreme Attitudes' In this paper he suggests that an experimental rocket should be flown to the moon. At the time when he said this, the public found it absurd. On March 16 1926 Goddard launched a liquid powered rocket that he had designed. The rocket flew 152 feet (which was about the same distance as the Wright brothers first flight). Although the distance that it flew wasn’t very far, the rocket still did fly, and this was the first recorded flight of a liquid fuelled rocket.
In 1945 the war ended, German forces were in full retreat and Hitler had committed suicide. Before Hitler had done this he had ordered that Von Braun and his team be killed so that their technology would not be handed over to the Americans. However, luckily for Von Braun and his team, Von Braun’s brother contacted the nearby American forces who arrived before Hitler’s soldiers could kill Von Braun and his team. On May 2nd 1945 Von Braun crossed over into American lines and safety. In June 1945, General Eisenhower authorised a series of A4 (V2) test launches in Europe. A Russian Army Colonel Sergi Korolev watched all three of these A4 launches at Cuxhaven, and ten years later he was being hailed as the Soviet Union’s chief designer of spacecraft. Sergi Korolev was responsible for the building of the Vostok, Voshkod and Soyuz spacecraft, which since 1961 have carried Soviet Cosmonauts into orbit.
Von Braun and team soon moved to White Sands Proving Ground where they began assembling and launching A4’s. On April 16 1946 the first A4 was launched in the USA. The US space program was finally underway. Up until 1952, 64 A4 rockets were launched from White Sands. By 1949 more room was needed and so a Joint Long Range Proving Ground was established at Cape Canaveral where Von Braun spent the next twenty years of his life. On July 24, 1950 a two-stage bumper rocket became the first of hundreds of rockets to be launched from the ‘Cape' as it was called. After this Von Braun and his team worked on what was really a super A4 rocket, which was named the Redstone rocket. In 1956 the Amy Ballistic Missile Agency was established at Redstone under the leadership of Von Braun. This establishment was to become a site to develop the Jupiter Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles, essentially another version of the Redstone rocket, known as Jupiter C. On January 31st 1958, the Jupiter C was used to launch the Explorer I, America’s first Satellite. Later, Alan Sheppard and Gus Grissom were sent on Suborbital space flights and then John Glenn made the United State's first orbital space flight. In 1958 NASA was established and two years later, Von Braun, his team and the entire Army Ballistic Missile Agency was moved to NASA to be the brains of the Agency’s space program.
In 1961 Alan Sheppard was named the first American in space (sub-orbital flight) after landing in the Atlantic Ocean. In this same year president Kennedy committed America to being the first nation on the moon. This was to be done with the help of the Marshal Centre at NASA who were put in charge of making a family of giant rockets that would take the Americans to the moon. This family of rockets were named ‘Saturn' which were to support the Apollo Program. At that time, the Saturn Rockets were the most powerful in the world.
On July 29th 1969 a message was received from the moon’s sea of tranquillity which said the following: 'THE EAGLE HAS LANDED.' The multi staged Saturn V rocket (including the CSM and LM) had taken the Americans around the moon and now onto its bumpy surface.
The Marshal team also developed America’s first space station called the Skylab which was put into orbit on May 14th 1973, marking a big change in rocketry as, up until then the rocket had played a major part and was always in the spotlight, but now the rocket had become a transportation vehicle to get to and from the Space Station. Now, for the first time space had become a place to work and live and not only visit.
The next major invention to come along was the amazing space shuttle. The space shuttle could, unlike most other rockets, be used more than once. Launching into space with the aid of rockets but landing like a conventional aircraft. The space shuttle’s engines had extreme power as each of the three engines could provide almost half a million pounds of thrust. The power of one of these engines was equivalent to all eight of Saturn I’s first stage engines. Space exploration continued along steadily until the Challenger disaster where the program sunk into a lull until it boosted back up again with the launch of the ‘Discovery' on September 29th 1988.
The rocket has influenced human civilisation immensely over the past several millennia; being used as a tool for celebration, communication, exploration and confrontations. Without it, the world would not be the same place.