On March 16, 1926 physicist Robert Goddard launched the first liquid fueled rocket. Using a rocket engine propelled by gasoline and liquid oxygen, Goddard’s first rocket managed a 2.5 second flight rising to an altitude of 40 feet. With him that day were his crew chief, Henry Sachs, Esther Goddard, his wife, and Percy Roope, who was Clark’s assistant professor in the physics department. The rocket rose slowly after several seconds of firing on the test pad, and although it only rose 40 feet in altitude managed to cover 184 feet crashing in a nearby field. Goddard’s brief entries in his journals tell more:
March 16. Went to Auburn with S[achs] in am. E[sther] and Mr. Roope came out at 1 p.m. Tried rocket at 2.30. It rose 41 feet & went 184 feet, in 2.5 secs., after the lower half of the nozzle burned off. Brought materials to lab… .
March 17, 1926. The first flight with a rocket using liquid propellants was made yesterday at Aunt Effie’s farm in Auburn… .
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.
The science of rocketry progressed at a rapid pace after that, with Goddard devoting the next two decades to improvements in rocket design. Born in 1882, at the height of the railroad century, Goddard lived long enough to see rockets used in World War 2-while not the happiest circumstances, still an amazing technological progress in a short amount of time.
The word rocket entered English in 1610 from the Italian word rocchetto, meaning a bobbin or spool head. The Italian root probably derived from a Germanic root such as rocko with the same meaning. The word was first used in English to describe a device propelled by a rocket engine in 1919.