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Dr. Robert H. Goddard – A Brief Biography

Father of American Rocketry and the Space Age

Doug West, Ph.D.

Dr. Robert H. Goddard – A Brief Biography

Father of American Rocketry and the Space Age

Copyright © 2017 Doug West

All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author. Reviewers may quote brief passages in reviews.

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Table of Contents



Chapter 1 – Early Years

Chapter 2 – Princeton University

Chapter 3 – World War I

Chapter 4 – Rocket Research

Chapter 5 – World War II and the JATO Aircraft

Chapter 6 – Esther Enlarges Robert’s Legacy



References and Further Reading

About the Author


Welcome to the book, Dr. Robert H. Goddard – A Brief Biography. This book is part of the 30 Minute Book Series and, as the name of the series implies, if you are an average reader this book will take around 30 minutes to read. Since this short book is not meant to be an all-encompassing biography of Robert Goddard, you may want to know more about this man and his life. To help you with this, there are several good references at the end of this book. Thank you for purchasing this book. I hope you enjoy your time reading about the life and accomplishments of Dr. Robert Goddard.

Doug West

June 2017


Dr. Robert Goddard was an American physicist, engineer, inventor, and professor, mostly known for being the creator of the first liquid fueled rocket. As a theorist and engineer, Goddard was one of the pioneers of spaceflight, and he is regarded as one of the leading figures of the Space Age. He is the author of one the classic texts of rocket science, A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes. Although he received little support for his work during his life, he is now acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of modern rocket science. In 1917, as the United States entered into World War I, Dr. Goddard turned his energies toward investigating the military possibilities of rockets. A number of Goddard’s prototype rockets were demonstrated successfully; however, the Army lost interest at the end of the war and Goddard returned to his private studies. His role in establishing the realistic potential of ballistic missiles or space travel was fundamental as he studied, designed, and built rockets that successfully proved these possibilities.

Chapter 1 - Early Years

It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.” – Robert Goddard

Robert Hutchings Goddard was born on October 5, 1882, in Worcester, Massachusetts. His parents were Nahum Danford Goddard and Fannie Louise Hoyt. Robert was an only child as his younger brother had died before his first birthday. As a boy, Robert had an unusual curiosity about nature and all its phenomena. He always found enjoyment in studying the sky with a telescope or observing the birds flying. Living in the countryside, he developed an affinity for the outdoors, which he explored passionately.

When electric power was introduced in American cities in the 1880s, Goddard started to develop a keen interest in engineering and technology. As a child, he was inspired by his father to attempt simple experiments, such as generating static electricity on the family’s carpet. This triggered his imagination and led him to try other types of experiments, such as creating a cloud of smoke in the house by the use of chemicals. To encourage his interest in science, Goddard’s father bought him a telescope and a microscope. The family also subscribed to the popular science magazine Scientific American. Robert’s interests became more specific as he grew up. He developed a fascination with flight, by observing kites or playing with balloons. His approach was professional and scientific from an early age since he was always documenting his work in a special diary. At the age of 16, he was already attempting more complicated experiments, such as constructing a balloon out of aluminum in his home workshop. He thoroughly documented his efforts in a methodical and detailed manner, despite the failure of his experiment. He didn’t let the failure of the experiment dampen his zeal for experimentation; he simply realized that the aluminum balloon, even when filled with hydrogen, was too heavy to float in the air.

After reading the science fiction story, The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, that appeared in a Boston newspaper in 1898, Goddard shifted his entire focus toward space flight. On October 19, 1899, Goddard climbed a cherry tree and as he observed the sky, he had a vision of the possibility to conquer the sky and space by ascending to planets such as Mars on a special device. This is how he remembered the experience as he told it years later in 1927:

[O]n the afternoon of October 19, 1899, I climbed a tall cherry tree at the back of the barn…and, armed with a saw which I still have, and a hatchet, started to trim the dead limbs form the cherry tree…I imagined how wonderful it would be to make some device which had even the possibility of ascending to Mars, and how it would look on a small scale, if sent up from the meadow at my feet. I have several photographs of the tree, taken since, with the little ladder I made to climb it, leaning against it. It seemed to me then that a weight whirling around a horizontal shaft, moving more rapidly above than below, could furnish lift by virtue of the greater centrifugal force at the top of the path. In any event, I was a different boy when I descended the tree from when I ascended, for existence at last seemed very purposive.

He celebrated October nineteenth as “Anniversary Day” from then on, considering that it was the day when life became for him full of meaning and purpose.

Despite his great ambitions and dreams, as a young man, Goddard was very frail. He suffered from several health conditions, such as stomach problems, bronchitis, and pleurisy, which forced him to pause his studies for a period of two years. During this time, however, he satisfied his insatiable curiosity by becoming a voracious reader. He often visited the local public library to find new books on science and technology. Goddard became captivated by the works of Samuel Langley’s papers on aerodynamics and motion, which were published in Smithsonian. Inspired by Langley’s articles, Goddard would spend his time testing theories by observing the flight of birds on his own. He tried to publish his conclusions in St. Nicholas magazine, but his article was rejected by the editor with the observation that flight requires an intelligence that machines could never possess as naturally as birds. Goddard was, however, certain that man would one day be able to control a flying machine. Another source of inspiration for him was Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica. He was convinced that Newton’s Third Law of Motion was applicable to motion in space, not just to motion on Earth.

Figure – Diagram illustrating Newton’s Third Law of Motion.

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