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Goddard at Clark University

Robert Goddard was on the faculty at Clark University.

Robert Goddards launch of the first liquid-propelled rocket, 1926.

Robert Goddardïs launch of the first liquid-propelled rocket, 1926.

Robert Goddard

Robert H. Goddard (1882-1945) was a prominent pioneer in the fields of rocketry and spaceflight theory. He earned his Ph.D. in physics at Clark University and became head of the Clark physics department and director of its physical laboratories. Using his own money, he began to work seriously on rocket development in 1909, first focusing on improving solid-propellant rockets. He received a grant from the Smithsonian Institution in 1916 that enabled him to conduct additional research, and in 1919, published A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes, proposing a rocket that might reach the moon.

In 1923 Goddard tested the first liquid-fueled rocket engines; previously only solid fuels had been used. On March 16, 1926, he launched the world's first liquid-propellant rocket. Burning gasoline and liquid oxygen, it traveled only 184 feet (56 meters), but it proved that his theories were valid. He continued working to develop more powerful rockets and more complex systems with the help of a few technical assistants. In July 1929 Goddard sent up the first instrument-carrying rocket, bearing a barometer, a thermometer, and a small camera. From 1930 to 1942, he continued his experiments in New Mexico, receiving financial aid from the Guggenheim Foundation. His experiments included the construction of rockets that reached a velocity of 550 miles per hour (885 kilometers per hour) and heights of up to 1.5 miles (2 kilometers). He received more than 200 patents, which were for many of the technologies later used on large rockets and missiles.

During World War II, with his work virtually ignored by the U.S. government, he worked for two years as director of research for the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics. When the Germans developed the V-2 rocket, some thought that they had copied the idea from Goddard. But Goddard had kept most of the technical details of his inventions secret, both preventing the Germans from acquiring his ideas and also missing the opportunity to exert a major influence on American rocket technology. It was not until after the war that Goddard's work was publicized and subsequently became the foundation for later space exploration.

In 1951, Goddard's widow and the Guggenheim Foundation jointly filed a patent infringement claim against the U.S. government. In 1960, the government paid $1 million and acquired the rights to more than 200 patents that covered "basic inventions in the field of rockets, guided missiles, and space exploration." NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, which opened in 1959, is named in his honor.