The Amazing Space Race
People have been determined to see what is beyond our world for ages. Let’s look at how the journey into space became a reality
THE countdown begins! 10... 9...8...7...6...5...4...3 ...2...1... We have liftoff ! Could a list of numbers sound more exciting than the sequence uttered by a launch controllermoments before liftoff ? It’s followed by a mighty roar as the powerful rocket shoots up into the sky with smoke and flames billowing from its tail.
It’s no wonder people have been fascinated by rockets and the promise of space travel since the earliest times.
The first real rockets were built 2 000 years ago by the Chinese, who used them a little like today’s fireworks. The first rocket propulsion systems came along in the Middle Ages, also in Asia, when a mixture of charcoal, sulphur and saltpetre was used as rocket “fuel” for military purposes.
But it’s only in the past 70 years that these machines have become so powerful they can soar into outer space. But as with many of history’s great achievements, the story behind it is a mixture of tragedy and triumph.
THE FOUNDING FATHERS OF ROCKETRY
The first breakthrough needed was to figure out how to reach orbit (see box above right). Three great scientists in three different countries began working on this problem separately at about the same time. In 1903 the Russian Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935) showed it would be possible for a rocket to fly into orbit if liquid hydrogen and oxygen were used as propellants instead of solid fuel.
In Germany Hermann Oberth (18941989) wrote ground-breaking books and essays, using mathematics to explain how a rocket can travel to space.
And in America there was Robert Goddard (1882-1945), who in 1926 managed to build the first rocket ever to use