Cosmos - - Cosmos Science Club - — CATHAL O’CON­NELL

SCI­ENCE FIC­TION SOURCE: H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel The War of the Worlds

ROBERT H. GOD­DARD, the Amer­i­can sci­en­tist who built the first liq­uid-fu­elled rocket, be­came fas­ci­nated with space flight af­ter read­ing H.G. Wells’ clas­sic novel about a Mar­tian in­va­sion.

In the novel, the Mar­tians fired cap­sules across to the Earth us­ing gi­ant can­nons. Af­ter study­ing physics, God­dard fo­cused in­stead on im­prov­ing the de­sign of rock­ets, which at the time were fu­elled by gun­pow­der and used as fire­works or ar­tillery. God­dard’s the­ory and ex­per­i­ments showed liq­uid-fu­elled rock­ets could be much more ef­fi­cient.

He also de­vel­oped gy­ro­scopes and steer­able thrust to con­trol the rock­ets’ flight and fore­saw the sci­en­tific uses of space flight, such as pho­tograph­ing the moon via a rocket fly-by.

God­dard’s ge­nius was not ap­pre­ci­ated in his own time, how­ever, in part be­cause the press of the day did not be­lieve a rocket would work in a vac­uum. Af­ter The New York Times ridiculed his ideas in 1920, God­dard ut­tered these pre­scient words: “Ev­ery vi­sion is a joke un­til the first man ac­com­plishes it; once re­alised, it be­comes com­mon­place.”

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