Updated: 10 February 201
In 1919, the Smithsonian Institute published an unusual and controversial little book titled "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes."
The author, who was already designing what would become the world's first liquid-propellant rocket, described in detail how to build a multi-stage rocket to reach the Moon. This little book inspired young experimenters far and wide, including Werner von Braun (who would later direct Germany's rocket programs, and eventually head America's space research projects).
A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes is quite readable, and not hard to understand. The math and physics involved are fundamental rocket science, and this little text provides a solid introduction to designing spacecraft to leave the Earth. It's loaded with illustrations and fine drawings, and merits the study of every budding rocket scientist and engineer.
Goddard's First Liquid-Fuel Rocket, April 1926
Goddard was a physics professor at Clark University, and during his spare time he built this rather flimsy "design concept" demonstration rocket. It was powered by liquid oxygen and gasoline, and ignited with a hand-held blow-torch. Though it flew only 126 feet, here was the first successful liquid-propellant rocket.
Encouraged to leave town by the local fire marshal, Goddard migrated to a remote desert prairie near Roswell, New Mexico in the 1930s. He outfitted a small and rather primitive workshop, and proceeded to build ever larger rockets.
Charles Lindberg heard of Goddard's advancing experiments, and paid a visit. Word got out to Air Corps General "Hap" Arnold, and soon the Guggenheim foundation gave Goddard some funds to continue. Guggenheim also insisted that Goddard document his progress, through reports to the Smithsonian.
Loading an early Roswell rocket into the launch tower
Goddard's firing bunker (he's manning a simple tracking device)
Though always a quiet (even secretive) man, Goddard reported on his Roswell experiments in the delightful book Liquid-Propellant Rocket Development. Here you will see detailed photos and drawings of his gyro-guided rockets, and the innovative steering systems he pioneered.
Many books have been written about the colorful life of this ingenious "amateur scientist," but his own reports are great places to learn rocket science -- from words and illustrations of a true pioneer.
You can find all of Goddard's books in our eBay Store.
Theory of Diffraction
On the Conduction of Electricity at Contacts of Dissimilar Solids
A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes
Liquid-Propellant Rocket Development
Robert H. Goddard: Accomplishments of the Roswell Years (1930-1941)
Historic Rocketry Books