Posthumous Fame Physicist Robert Hutchings Goddard

About the famous physicist Robert Hutchings Goddard, biography and history of the man who achieved fame after only death.


ROBERT HUTCHINGS GODDARD (1882-1945), U.S. physicist, rocketry pioneer

Goddard taught physics for most of his career at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. His now classic paper "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes" (1919) predicted the development of spacecraft and their possibility of reaching the moon and beyond. Over the next 25 years he experimented, plotted trajectories, and tested several fuel and guidance systems, anticipating much of the later progress in rocketry. The New York Times, in a 1920 editorial, ridiculed his claim that rockets could fly to the moon, even though Goddard had clearly demonstrated that they could operate in a vacuum. He was called "moon mad" and his insights were ignored by both the general public and the government--although the German V-2 production of W.W. II adopted many of his ideas. Almost 15 years after his death, the Soviet Sputnik 1 orbiter vindicated Goddard's theories. Since U.S. research could not proceed without infringing on many of his 214 patents, the government paid $1 million to the Guggenheim Foundation, which had supported his work. In belated recognition of Goddard's skill and foresight, the NASA research facility at Greenbelt, Md., was named the Goddard Space Flight Center. And, as the Apollo 11 astronauts prepared to walk on the moon on July 17, 1969, The New York Times printed a formal retraction of its 1920 editorial.

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