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Frequently Asked Questions About Dr. Robert H. Goddard

What was Robert Goddard's family background like?
Who was Dr. Goddard's wife?
What was Dr. Goddard's academic background like?
What were the illnesses that afflicted Robert Goddard?
What was Robert Goddard's "cherry tree vision?"
What was Dr. Goddard's most famous quotation?
What was Robert Goddard's most famous publication?
When was the famous New York Times editorial about Dr. Goddard?
How many patents were awarded to Robert Goddard?
What were some of Dr. Goddard's greatest accomplishments?
In addition to rockets, were there any other modes of transportation that interested Dr. Goddard?
What was the importance of Robert Goddard's December 6, 1925 rocket test at Clark University?
What were Dr. Goddard's thoughts about the first liquid-fueled rocket flight?
Why is the exhaust nozzle of the March 16, 1926 rocket above the fuel tank?
Why did Dr. Goddard launch his early rockets in Auburn, Massachusetts?
Where did Robert Goddard get his funding for his work with rockets?
Was Dr. Goddard's famous during his life?
Why did Robert Goddard move his later rocket flights away from Auburn?
Why were Dr. Goddard's later rocket flights in Roswell, New Mexico?
How many rockets did Robert Goddard launch?
Which of Dr. Goddard's rockets flew the highest?
When was Robert Goddard's last rocket launch?

Please note: The articles (linked below) written by Dr. Goddard are in PDF format and will require a copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to view. If you do not have a copy, you can download it for free.


What was Robert Goddard's family background like?

Robert Hutchings Goddard was the son of Nahum Danford Goddard and Fannie Louise (Hoyt) Goddard, who had wed on January 3, 1882. Robert had one brother, Richard H., who was born and died in 1894. Nahum was born on January 3, 1859 to Nahum Parks Goddard and Mary Pease (Upham) Goddard and he died on September 15, 1928. Nahum Danford Goddard had two siblings, twins Alonzo and Elvira, both of whom were born and died in 1833. Nahum Parks Goddard was the only child of Danford and Elvira C. (Goddard) Goddard to survive childhood. Fannie was born on September 17, 1864 and was the only child of Henry A. Hoyt and Mary Louisa (Gates) Hoyt. Fannie died on January 29, 1920. Dr. Goddard married Esther Christine Kisk on June 21, 1924. They had no children.

Like many other Goddards in New England, Robert Goddard could trace his ancestry back to William Goddard, who came to Massachusetts from England in 1665. William and Elizabeth Goddard had six sons, one of whom, Benjamin, is Dr. Goddard's ancestor.

Who was Dr. Goddard's wife?

By filming and photographing Robert Goddard's rocketry work, Esther Goddard played an important roll in documenting his research. In addition, after his death, she worked tirelessly at keeping alive the memory of his groundbreaking research.

Esther Christine Kisk was born on March 31, 1901 in Worcester, MA. After graduating from South High School in Worcester and attending Bates College, she became the secretary of Clark University's president, which is how she met Dr. Goddard. They were married on June 21, 1924. After their marriage, Esther devoted her time to helping her husband record his research. While he worked for the navy during the Second World War, she attended Johns Hopkins University and finished her undergraduate degree there in 1945. After he died, she finished the patenting of his inventions, helped with the publishing of some of his writings, and further publicized his work. She also earned a master's degree from Clark University in 1951, was a trustee of it from 1964 through 1970, and received an honorary degree from the school in 1972. She died in Worcester on June 4, 1982.

What was Dr. Goddard's academic background like?

Dr. Goddard graduated from South High School in Worcester in 1904 and earned his undergraduate degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1908. He began his graduate studies at Clark University in the fall of 1908. While attending Clark, his major area of concentration was physics and his minor was in mathematics. He finished his master's degree in June of 1910 and his thesis for that was titled "Theory of Diffraction." * In June of 1912 he completed his doctorate and his dissertation was titled "On the Conduction of Electricity at Contacts of Dissimilar Solids."* His chief instructor in graduate school was Dr. A. G. Webster, who was a founder of the American Physical Society. The report by the professors conducting his examination for his doctorate stated that "Mr. Goddard sustained his examination with great distinction" and Dr. Webster commented that "it was a spectacular performance."

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What were the illnesses that inflicted Robert Goddard?

The nature of the illnesses that hounded Robert Goddard as a child cannot be determined. In fact, there is some unsubstantiated speculation that his prolonged childhood absences from school were as much a result of an overprotective family as they were from sickness.

After earning his PhD at Clark University, but before he joined the faculty there, Goddard had a research fellowship at Princeton University for the 1912-1913 school year. During March, he came down with tuberculosis. Although the doctor thought that the illness would kill him, Goddard became better after battling it for many months. However, the disease would plague him to a greater or lesser extent for the rest of his life.

After fighting throat cancer for several months, Robert Goddard died on August 10, 1945.

What was Robert Goddard's "cherry tree vision?"

At the age of 17, while in his family's yard, Robert Goddard had a vision of space travel that would remain with him for the rest of his life. Later, in an autobiographical sketch, Goddard wrote "on the afternoon of October 19, 1899, I climbed a tall cherry tree and, armed with a saw which I still have, and a hatchet, started to trim the dead limbs from the cherry tree. It was one of the quiet, colorful afternoons of sheer beauty which we have in October in New England, and as I looked towards the fields at the east, I imagined how wonderful it would be to make some device which had even the possibility of ascending to Mars. I was a different boy when I descended the tree from when I ascended for existence at last seemed very purposive."

What was Dr. Goddard's most famous quotation?

It is quite possible that Dr. Goddard's most famous quotation was given when he was only in high school. In June 1904 at his high school graduation he gave the class oration, which he titled "On Taking Things for Granted." It ended with the phrase "it has often proved true that the dream of yesterday is the hope of today, and the reality of tomorrow."

What was Robert Goddard's most famous publication?

Robert Goddard's best-known publication is "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes."* It was issued in the Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, Volume 71, Number 2, 1919.

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When was the famous New York Times editorial about Dr. Goddard?

When "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes" was published, there were a number of newspaper articles that were printed about it during early January of 1920. One of these was the New York Times article on January 12 titled "Aim to Reach Moon with New Rocket." The next day the Times printed an editorial on page 12 under the heading "Topics of the Times" that laughed at Dr. Goddard and his assertion that a rocket's thrust would be effective beyond the earth's atmosphere. Part of the editorial stated "That professor Goddard, with his "chair" in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction; and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react - to say that would be absurd. Of course, he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools."

Goddard responded to this and his other critics with a statement that was released later that month to the Associated Press. To one reporter's question, he responded "every vision is a joke until the first man accomplishes it; once realized, it becomes commonplace." To those who had more scholarly questions about the possibility rocket flight in space, he wrote an article titled, "That Moon Rocket Proposition: Refutation of Some Popular Fallacies" that was published in the February 26, 1921 issue of the Scientific American.

On page 43 of the July 17, 1969 edition of the New York Times was printed "A Correction" to their editorial of 1920. This commentary, which was published three days before man's first walk on the moon, stated that "it is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. The Times regrets the error."

Dr. Goddard gave another reaction to the New York Times editorial in front of an assembly of Clark University undergraduate students a few years before his first rocket launch. As described by one of the students who was there, inside a glass bell jar Dr. Goddard put "a spindle at the top of which was rigged a .22 caliber revolver loaded with a blank cartridge. The latter was electrically wired to explode at a given moment. After exhausting as much air as practically possible from the bell jar, thus creating an airless vacuum analogous to the medium outside the earth's atmosphere, and after quoting The New York Times's pejorative comments, Dr. Goddard touched a key, the cartridge exploded, and the pistol spun briskly around making four complete revolutions. Dr. Goddard knew that Isaac Newton's Third Law, viz., that every force has an equal and opposite reaction, had never been repealed; that it operates universally whether in or out of a vacuum; and therefore whether in or out of atmospheric space. This experiment as repeated for us was highly dramatic and, of course, quite conclusive. As the pistol spun around, Dr. Goddard dryly observed, 'So much for The New York Times.'"

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How many patents were awarded to Robert Goddard?

Robert Goddard is credited with 214 patents, of which 131 were filed after his death. In 1951 Mrs. Goddard and the Guggenheim Foundation, which had helped fund Dr. Goddard's research, filed a joint claim against the U.S. government for infringing upon his patents. In June of 1960 they were given a $1,000,000 settlement, at that time the largest patent settlement that the government had ever given. The settlement award was based mainly on the infringement of three patents. The first was Number 2,395,113, which is a "method for feeding combustion liquids to rocket apparatus," which utilized turbines, pumps, and a gas generator. The second and third were Numbers 2,397,657 and 2,397,659, which both were for the "control mechanism for a rocket apparatus." The one dealt with using an outside starting device and the latter dealt with self-starting devices for intermittent operation and seals for fuel pumps.

What were some of Dr. Goddard's greatest accomplishments?

Dr. Goddard was the first to:

  • mathematically prove that a rocket can propel in a vacuum (in 1907);
  • patent the oscillator tube, which was later used in the radio industry (1912);
  • patent the concept of the multi-stage rocket (in 1914);
  • prove by testing that rockets can propel in a vacuum (in 1915);
  • invent the prototype of the bazooka (in 1918);
  • develop a rocket using liquid fuels (in 1921-1926);
  • have a liquid-fueled rocket lift its own weight (at Clark University on Dec. 6, 1925);
  • successfully fire a liquid fuel rocket (in Auburn, MA on March 16, 1926);
  • launch a rocket with a scientific payload (a barometer and a camera in 1929);
  • develop gyro stabilization apparatus as an internal guidance system for rockets (in 1932);
  • use vanes in rocket motor blast for guidance (in 1932);
  • fire a liquid fuel rocket that traveled faster than the speed of sound (on March 8, 1935);
  • use a rocket engine pivoted on gimbals controlled by a gyro mechanism (1937).

Dr. Goddard also:

  • was first to use a De Laval (expanding cone) Nozzle in a rocket;
  • developed the first turbopumps for a liquid propellant rocket;
  • used the first pulse-jet engine;
  • developed the first liquid propellant rocket cluster.

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In addition to rockets, were there any other modes of transportation that interested Dr. Goddard?

Dr. Goddard also considered what we call magnetic levitation systems, which is also called maglev. First, he wrote an essay about such vehicles for a college assignment. Later, Goddard was awarded patent #2,488,287, which is called "Apparatus for Vacuum Tube Transportation" and #2,511,979, which is "Vacuum Tube Transportation Systems." Basically, he envisioned a maglev being used within a vacuum tube. He believed that this would allow the vehicle to move as fast as the humans in it could physically endure.

What was the importance of Robert Goddard's December 6, 1925 rocket test at Clark University?

This test, which was done on a static rack in the annex attached to the physics building at Clark University, was the first time a liquid-fueled rocket was able to lift its own weight. Robert Goddard commented that "with a rocket weighing 12 lbs. empty the engine pressure was 75 lbs., and the combustion chamber pressure 100 lbs., and both pressures were constant. There was a good, and rather steady flame. The lift was about 1", and oscillated, but was undoubtedly enough to lift the rocket during the last half of the run. This test, being the first in which a liquid propelled rocket had operated satisfactorily and lifted its own weight, is of much significance, for it shows that a larger rocket constructed on the same plan could raise itself to considerable altitudes." A few months later, on March 16, 1926, Goddard had the first flight of a liquid-fueled rocket.

What were Dr. Goddard's thoughts about the first liquid-fueled rocket flight?

In his diary for March 16, 1926, Dr. Goddard wrote, "Went to Auburn with S[achs] in am. E[sther] and Mr. Roope came out at 1 pm. Tried rocket at 2:30. It rose 41 ft, & went 184 ft, in 2.5 secs, after the lower half of nozzle had burned off." On another page he continued by writing, "The first flight with a rocket using liquid propellants was made yesterday at Aunt Effie's farm in Auburn. The day was clear and comparatively quiet. The anemometer on the Physics lab was turning leisurely when Mr. Sachs and I left in the morning, and was turning as leisurely when we returned at 5:30 pm. Even though the release was pulled, the rocket did not rise at first, but the flame came out, and there was a steady roar. After a number of seconds it rose, slowly until it cleared the frame, and then at express train speed, curving over to the left, and striking the ice and snow, still going at a rapid rate. It looked almost magical as it rose, without any appreciably greater noise or flame, as if it said 'I've been here long enough; I think I'll be going somewhere else, if you don't mind.' Esther said that it looked like a fairy or an aesthetic dancer, as it started off. The sky was clear, for the most part, with large shadowy white clouds, but late in the afternoon there was a large pink cloud in the west, over which the sun shone. One of the surprising things was the absence of smoke, the lack of very loud roar, and the smallness of the flame."

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Why is the exhaust nozzle of the March 16, 1926 rocket above the fuel tank?

Early in Dr. Goddard's rocketry research, when he was working on solid fueled designs, he had the nozzle positioned at the bottom of the rocket, like today's rockets are. However, when he started working with liquid fueled rockets before the March 1926 flight, he put the nozzle above the fuel tanks, as you can see in the diagram. His reasoning was given in Section 2 of an August 1929 report to the Clark University trustees (the university helped support his early research): "Stability of flight is, incidentally, ensured from the facts that the nozzle is above the center of gravity of the rocket, as a whole, and that there is a comparatively large air resistance at the lower part of the rocket, as seen in Fig. 91 [this is a photo of a rocket that is very similar to the one launched in March of 1926]..."

When the launches of March 16th and April 3rd did not exhibit stable flight paths, Dr. Goddard reverted to having the nozzle on the bottom of the rocket. The reason for this was to reduce the weight of the rocket so that less force would be needed to lift it. In the same report cited in the previous paragraph, Dr. Goddard wrote "Two final attempts [at launching a rocket of this scale; he then went to one that was twenty times larger] were made to secure greater lightness and greater lifting force. The change consisted in placing the combustion chamber and nozzle at the bottom of the rocket, as shown in Figs. 137 and 138 [these are photos of Goddard standing next to a rocket with its nozzle at the bottom]... This plan was used in order to avoid the weight of the long asbestos-covered supply pipes for the liquid, and the two asbestos-covered braces [the braces were added for the April 3rd flight], and also to avoid the downward force of the gases ejected from the nozzle on the asbestos-covered aluminum cone which protected the liquid oxygen tank from the flame. The weight was thus reduced to 5 1/4 lbs. [from the 6 lbs. of the March 16th rocket]..."

Why did Dr. Goddard launch his early rockets in Auburn, Massachusetts?

Although Dr. Goddard did his early static rocket tests at Clark University, he needed to get out of an urban area like Worcester to launch his rockets safely. Effie Ward owned a farm about two miles away from the university on Pakachoag Hill in Auburn. Although referred to as "Aunt Effie," she was not actually an aunt of his, but a slightly more distant relative. Her farm, which was in a somewhat rural area, made it much less likely that a rocket would land where it would cause damage. The site of the farm is now part of the Pakachoag Golf Course.

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Where did Robert Goddard get his funding for his work with rockets?

During his early studies, Robert Goddard funded his rocket experiments from his own pay and from money provided by Clark University. However, the funds coming from these sources, as well as later grants from the Smithsonian Institution and the Carnegie Institution, were relatively small in size. Goddard had to make do with fairly small amounts of funding until the Guggenheim family started to provide money in 1930.

Was Dr. Goddard's famous during his life?

Although he was in the newspapers periodically throughout his life, Robert Goddard was far from being nationally well-known. This is probably due in part to the fact that rockets were little-used while he was alive. The time he received the most press coverage was probably after his rocket launch on July 17, 1929. Dr. Goddard described what occurred in a report he wrote during August of 1929:

"Owing to the flight being the highest so far attained, and the flame using an excess of gasoline producing a loud noise and a bright white flare, neighbors sent in calls for ambulances, thinking that an airplane had caught fire and crashed. Unknown to me, two police ambulances searched through Auburn for "victims," and an airplane was sent from the Grafton airport for the same purpose...We were nearly packed up when over the hill from the direction of the farmhouse I saw about a dozen automobiles, raising a great cloud of dust, the first two being ambulances. I asked the two officers if they could not keep the thing quiet. For answer, one of them said, "Do you see these two men coming?" I answered, "Yes, why?" "They are two reporters, one for the [Worcester Evening] Post and one for the [Worcester] Gazette," was his reply. I tried to arrange to keep it quiet with the two city editors, but by that time extras were coming out...  [On the unreliability of the reports in the press, Dr. Goddard wrote] There were many curious press comments regarding the nature of the flight. All agreed that the rocket traveled with a loud roar, heard, it was said, for a radius of two miles. Some mentioned a loud droning noise, like that of an airplane propeller, before it started. [In reality] the burning is irregular until the pressure has risen considerably."

The Worcester newspapers, such as the Worcester Evening Post, wrote front page articles sensationalizing this incident. It was also covered by papers across the U.S. through Associated Press articles and short pieces about the event even made it into the newspapers in places as far away as Shanghai and Bombay."

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Why did Robert Goddard move his later rocket flights away from Auburn?

The publicity from the launch of July 17, 1929 caused many of the people of Auburn to want to ban Dr. Goddard from doing any more tests there. Their demands forced Massachusetts' State Fire Marshall, George Neal, to require Goddard to leave. Fortunately for him, he was able to arrange to do static rocket tests on the U.S. military base at Devens, Massachusetts, which was beyond the control of the state government.

The news accounts of the July 17, 1929 launch led to the philanthropist Harry Guggenheim finding out about the rocketry research. As a promoter of aviation, he decided to fund Goddard's research, as a letter to Clark University's president states. Guggenheim's support, which was more than just financial, continued beyond the initial four years of support described in the letter.

Why were Dr. Goddard's later rocket flights in Roswell, New Mexico?

Once the Guggenheims started to provide funding, it allowed Dr. Goddard to develop rockets in a more favorable location than New England. Goddard discussed his needs with Dr. Charles F. Brooks, who was a meteorologist at Clark University. In an unpublished article, Goddard described the decision making process: "We sat down together and methodically combed over the weather statistics of various sections of the country. We wanted a relatively high region with a minimum of rain- and snowfall, a minimum even of cloudiness, and freedom from fog. We looked too, for a place without extremes of heat and cold where we could count on considerable periods without wind. In other words, we wanted good outdoor working weather the year round, and good visibility on every score. With these conditions overhead and surrounding us, our final need was for good, level ground underfoot, and a great deal of it. Above all, we wanted ground with a minimum of people and houses on it, where rockets could rise, or crash, or even explode without wear and tear on neighbors' nerves." They eventually decided "that the best answer to our needs were the high plains of east central New Mexico. A map of the region showed that the town of Roswell was situated near the center of the favorable area."

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How many rockets did Robert Goddard launch?

Robert Goddard had 35 successful launches of liquid-propelled rockets. There were 23 additional flight tests in which the rocket did not lift off. Because of his determination and optimism, however, when he would comment about what seemed like failures, he would often use a phrase like "valuable negative information." Of these flight tests, ten were attempted in Auburn, Massachusetts and four of these took off. He did not attempt any flights during his work at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. While in Roswell, New Mexico, he attempted 48 flights, of which 31 lifted off.

Which of Dr. Goddard's rockets flew the highest?

Dr. Goddard launched rocket L-13 on March 26, 1937 and the peak altitude that it reached was approximately 1.7 miles off of the ground in 22.3 seconds. By comparison, his first rocket, which he launched on March 16, 1926, reached an altitude of only 41 feet and landed 184 feet away 2.5 seconds after it was launched.

When was Robert Goddard's last rocket launch?

Robert Goddard's last rocket lauch was May 8, 1941. After that he worked on rocket assisted- takeoff units for aircraft for the war effort for World War II.

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