It is believed that around the year 600 B.C. the
Chinese had mastered the art of using gunpowder. The Chinese
first demonstrated the explosiveness of gunpowder through the
lighting and detonation of firecrackers. There are not written
records of when they were introduced, but fire arrows launched
by gunpowder are recognized as the first true rockets. These
were regular arrows that were propelled by ignited gunpowder
housed in a tube, which was tied to the arrow itself. The
Chinese would fire these in salvos from an assortment of boxes
and cylinders, and some of them could hold as many as 1,000
fire arrows each!
Throughout the 13th and 15th
centuries, European countries experimented with rockets. In
England, a monk named Roger Bacon had improved the forms of
gunpowder, which greatly increased the range of rockets. In
France, a man named Jean Froissart had discovered that rockets
flew more accurately if fired from a tube. His idea later
became the stepping-stone for the bazooka.
Beginning of Modern Rocketry
Modern history of rockets began in 1898, when a Russian
schoolteacher, Konstatin Tsiolovsky (1857-1935), proposed the
exploration of space by rocket. In 1903, he suggested that the
use of liquid propellants would help make the rocket achieve
greater range. He also said that the speed and range of a
rocket were bound by the amount of escape velocity of the
escaping gas. After Tsiolovsky’s great vision and ideas, he
is now considered the father of modern astronautics.
Early in the 20th century, an American,
Robert H. Goddard (1882-1945), conducted practical experiments
in rocketry. With these experiments he found a greater
interest in achieving higher altitudes for rockets, and
proposed that it was possible with lighter-than-air balloons.
While he was working with solid-propelled rockets, he
discovered that it would help make the rocket fly farther if
the rocket were powered by a liquid-propellant. In his time,
it was extremely difficult because items such as fuel and
oxygen tanks, turbines, and combustion chambers were needed.
However, he successfully tested the first liquid-propellant
rocket on March 16, 1926.
A third space pioneer, Herman Oberth (1894-1989) of
Germany, had published a book in 1923 about rocket travel in
outer space. It was extremely important because with his
publishing countless small rocket societies sprang up around
Germany. In 1937, in Peenemunde, German scientists and
engineers, including Oberth, would assemble and fly the most
advanced rockets of the time, all under the leadership of
Wernher von Braun. It was here where the V-2 rocket was
invented. These rockets were fired at London, but introduced
too late in World War II to make any differences.
The Space Age and Modern Rocketry
With the end of Nazi Germany, many of the German
engineers and scientists, including von Braun, went to either
the US or the Soviet Union. At first, the US began with a
program that involved the development of high-altitude
atmospheric sounding rockets, which was one of Goddard’s
early ideas. Later, the US worked on medium and long-range
intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). These are known as
the starting point of the United States space program. It is
with these ideas that the Redstone Atlas and the Titan would
later emerge and later send astronauts into space.
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik,
the first satellite ever to successfully enter space. With
this achievement, the US and the Soviet Union started the
“Space Race”. A month after Sputnik was launched, the
Soviets fired a satellite that carried a dog named Laika.
Laika had survived seven days in space before being put to
sleep because of low oxygen supply. A few months after Sputnik
was launched, the U.S. Army launched the Explorer I on January
31, 1958. In that same year in October, the US had formally
established the Nation Aeronautics and Space Organization
(NASA). This is a civilian agency with the goal of peaceful
space exploration. It is still in existence today.
With these great achievements, men and machines were
being sent into space, onto the moon, and satellites were
being launched into the far reaches of space. Satellites today
can transfer information in a heartbeat, tell us about the
weather, and give us detailed photos from over 50 miles up in
the sky. Another achievement is the advancement of military
and civilian rockets. As the demand for larger payloads
augmented, more versatile and powerful rockets were built.
Today, space exploration is still an essential part of our lives. We gather intelligence about Earth everyday, as well as other planets and galaxies. It is only a matter of time until we settle on other planets, both in the Milky Way and additional, distant galaxies, all with the fascination of the rocket, which was started over 2000 years ago.
©2003 Charles F. Patton Middle School Thinkquest Team