The Amaz­ing Space Race

YOU Gateway to Space - - Contents -

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 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

Kon­stantin Tsi­olkovsky

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