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.”