"A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes"

by Robert Hutchings Goddard


A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes

by Robert H. Goddard

Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, Volume 71, Number 2
Publication 2540, 1919

With 10 Plates

Robert Hutchings Goddard is widely regarded as "the father of modern rocketry," and this book is generally regarded as his most important work

It's clearly the most influential book ever written about rocket science.

And with good reason.  Here, Dr. Goddard describes how rockets can be used to explore the upper atmosphere--and why they function perfectly in the vacuum of outer space.  The texts explains that at a velocity of 6.95 miles per second (11.2 kps), without air resistance, an object can escape Earth's gravity and head into infinity, or toward other celestial bodies.  This speed became known as the Earth's "escape velocity."  In "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes" he points out that humans could reach the Moon using these techniques.

This extremely advanced book opened both eyes and minds around the world.  It inspired hundreds, if not thousands, to pursue rocket science, engineering, and technology.  Wernher von Braun was deeply influenced by Goddard's treatise, as were Willy Ley, Theodore von Kármán, William Pickering, James Van Allen, Charles Lindbergh, Henry "Hap" Arnold, Herman Oberth, and Fritz Lang.  Even the Wright Brothers studied Goddard's incredible text. 

An important (and hard-to-find) document, "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes" covers both theory and practice.  First Dr. Goddard explains, in simple terms, the math involved (it's really not too advanced, even for a high school student to understand).  He then goes on to calculate the minimum speed to leave the Earth's gravity.

Next--and filling the majority of the book--Goddard describes his innovative and ingenious experiments, using small fireworks rockets and Coston ship rockets.  Working with black powder and (Hercules and Du Pont) smokeless pistol, shotgun, and rifle gunpowder, in his own small rocket motors (precisely described with detailed engineering drawings), he makes various static tests.  You'll learn a lot about building and testing rockets from this important document.

Goddard describes his electric igniter system in detail, and gives all the information you would need to build a similar rocket engine in your shop.  Next he shows how he built a larger nickel-alloy steel rocket motor, and conducted more tests.  Then, the physics professor makes extensive tests in a vacuum chamber!  All of these experiments are described in great detail, with more than enough information and data (and photos and drawings!) for anyone to copy them.

Goddard's "tissue paper detector," his "direct-lift impulse-meter," and other test stand apparatus are quite ingenious (and again easy to build in any basic shop).  There are detailed tables and charts showing the result of his static tests, along with delightful night photographs of the firings. 

Finally, the professor proceeds to prove that it is possible to escape the Earth's gravity--using a multi-stage rocket!

His book gives the calculations of minimum mass to raise one pound to various altitudes in the atmosphere, and suggestions for recovery of apparatus on return.  There are seven appendices to the book, with recaps of the math equations, and one called "Probability of Collision with Meteors."  Five pages of notes follow this, along with 25 terrific photos!

The book provides many insights into the mind and thinking of this important inventor.  It's a "must have" for the library of every serious rocket scientist, engineer, and technician.  If you want to learn rocket science from its roots, by all means begin here!

Born a the son of a machine shop owner in 1882, Goddard became a physics instructor at Clark University.  As a young physics graduate student, he conducted static tests with small solid-fuel rockets, and in 1912 he developed the detailed mathematical theory of rocket propulsion.  He continued these efforts and actually received two patents in 1914.  One was the first for a rocket using solid and liquid fuel, and the other for a multistage rocket. 

In 1915 he proved that rocket engines could produce thrust in a vacuum--proving that space flight was indeed possible.  In 1916 the Smithsonian Institution provided funds for Goddard to continue his work on solid-propellant rockets and to begin development of liquid-fuel rockets as well.

During World War I, Goddard developed several types of solid-fuel rockets to be fired from handheld launching tubes.  These formed the basis of the bazooka and other powerful rocket weapons of World War II.

Goddard continued as a professor of physics at Clark, turning his attention to liquid rocket propulsion.  In 1916 he applied to the Smithsonian Institution for assistance in 1916 and received a $5,000 grant.  His research was ultimately published by the Smithsonian as the classic study, A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes, in 1919.

In this now-famous treatise, Goddard described how rockets could be used to explore the upper atmosphere.  He went on to show that at a velocity of 6.95 miles per second (11.2 kps), without air resistance, an object could escape Earth's gravity and head into infinity, or toward other celestial bodies. This became known as the Earth's "escape velocity."  He explained that humans could reach the Moon using these techniques.

On March 16, 1926, Goddard launched his first liquid-fuel rocket, a liquid oxygen and gasoline vehicle that rose 184 feet in 2.5 seconds.  This event heralded the modern age of rocketry.

He continued to experiment with rockets and propellants for the rest of his life.  From 1930 to 1941, he launched rockets of increasing complexity and capability.  He developed systems for steering a rocket in flight by using a rudder-like device to deflect the gaseous exhaust, with gyroscopes to keep the rocket headed in the proper direction. 

The culmination of this effort was a successful launch of a rocket to an altitude of 9,000 feet in 1941.  Later that year joined the U.S. Navy, and spent the duration of World War II developing a jet-assisted takeoff (JATO) rocket to shorten the distance required for heavy aircraft launches.  Some of this work led to the development of the “throttleable” Curtiss-Wright XLR25-CW-1 rocket engine, which later powered the Bell X-2 research airplane and helped overcome the transonic barrier in 1947.  Goddard did not live to see this; he died in Baltimore, Maryland, on August 10, 1945.

In 1960 the U.S. government recognized Robert Goddard's work when the Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) awarded his estate $1 million for the use of his 214 rocketry patents.  Although he did not live to see the space age begin, if any one man had a central role in its creation, it was Goddard.

Samples of Goddard's photos and hand-drawn illustrations
(much smaller than in book)

After several years of correspondence, we obtained from the Smithsonian archives a rare, high-resolution digital scan of Robert H. Goddard's original manuscript, and have printed it with a high-resolution laser printer (it's not photocopied) on high-quality, bright-white, 20-pound, acid-free paper.  It's quality bound for years of reference use.  82 pages, 8-1/2 x 5-1/2"size.  $19.95

USA (Insured Priority Mail: $3.85)
International (Priority Airmail: $9.85)

We ship worldwide -- you pay only actual postal costs: combine several books into one shipment to save!
100% positive comments from more than 1,600 happy customers worldwide!

Many other unusual books in our eBay Store !

Ordering by mailOther questions ?

We also offer two other rare Goddard documents--his dissertations for Masters and Doctorate degrees.  These may be found here:

Robert H. Goddard's Masters Thesis: Theory of Diffraction (1910)http://rocketsciencebooks. com/books/goddard-diffraction/diffraction.html

Robert H. Goddard's Doctoral Dissertation: Conduction of Electricity (1912).   http://rocketsciencebooks.com/books/goddard-conduction/conduction.html


The Rocket Science Institute is a non-profit scientific and educational foundation in support of "amateur" experimental rocket science, engineering, and technology.

Rocket Science Institute, Inc., P.O. Box 1253, Carmel Valley CA 93924 USA     •     e-mail: books@rocketsciencebooks.com

Book Catalog
Nitrate-type Propellants Group