Rocketing Into Space
Man has always looked up at birds in the sky and wanted to fly, fly, away!
The first successful idea was invented in Greece about 100 BC by Hero. It used a round vessel filled with water, which was heated by fire to create steam. He put little tubes out the sphere that allowed the steam to escape. We now tend to call these little tubes or vents “jets” which allow the steam to jettison the vessel (least it explode from the pressure of the steam). Hero’s aeolipile, as it was called, made the sphere spin around due to the escaping “jet stream” of steam.
This concept, of course, would become the basis for the steam locomotive and steam car many centuries later.
The Chinese invented gun powder way back in history and discovered that if you left one end of a tube open, then packed the closed side with this power, the tube would move when ignited by fire. This, was the first Rocket and by the 1200s AD the Chinese were using these gunpowder rockets in warfare against the Mongols. There is also an age-old legend in China about the first “astronaut” whose name was Wan-Hoo. It is said he had many, many black power rockets affixed to his wicker chair, then assistants lighted them all and in a puff of smoke he vanished.
Later around 1400 AD Joanes de Fontana of Italy used a gunpowder rocket as propulsion for a surface torpedo.
In 1650 Poland’s Kazimierz Siemienowicz designed the first “multi-stage” rocket.
Of course in the mid-1700’s Francis Scott Key, a songwriter, penned the famous like “and the rocket’s red glare” as a description of the American Revolutionary War with Britain.
Sir William Congreve of Great Britain invented the first highly successful warfare rocket, used in the War of 1812. This rocket could fly over 9,000 feet (nearly two miles)! They also used these rockets against Napoleon in 1807 and in an attack against Copenhagen, Denmark.
India was (and still is) a leading rocket power country and used these against Great Britain in 1780 at the Battle of Guntur. When the rockets of India were fired upon the British troops, they broke ranks and ran for the hills!
In the United States a man named Hale perfected the rocket ever further and this was used in war against Mexico and in the U.S. Civil War.
In the 19th century, Claude Ruggieri, of Italian descent living in France, was the first person to actually send small animals into space with a rocket.
The Russians made the next great development early in 1900 when Tsiolkovsky published a paper suggesting the liquid chemicals be used in rockets as a replacement for black powder, because some chemicals were capable of greater thrust.
Man finally flew around this same time frame with the Wright Brothers used a gasoline powered internal combustion engine to power a spinning propeller and cause a winged craft holding a human to fly a few feet off the ground at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
In the 1930’s Adolph Hitler was coming to power in Germany and his faction embraced the legacy of rocket power, the concepts of Russian liquid fuel and the multi-stage delivery system. So much so, that Hitler banned a science fiction film made by German filmmaker Fritz Lang, called “The Woman In The Moon” because the multi-stage rocket was too close to the designs Hitler’s scientists were planning.
Dr. Hermann Oberth and Werner von Braun were the leaders in the German “clubs” that experimented with rocketry and eventually became part of the German war machine.
By the 1940’s Hitler was using ram jet powered rockets to bomb England.
The concept of a ram jet is a simple tube with a large front end and small back end. Inside fuel, such as gasoline, is fed into the interior and ignited by a spark. The only way this type of device could fly was by dragging it like a kit or catapulting it at enough speed so that the hot jet exhaust would start to drive the projectile.
Hitler’s people also invented the first passenger jet airplane, but it new saw used in the war as this invention came way too late in the history of things. It, too, was probably a ram jet or used a propeller to gain initial momentum, then switched over to the jet engine for thrust. Had Hitler made enough of these planes and used them against the allied forces, he would have controlled the air.
Hitler was using what is termed the V-2 rocket against Britain late in the war. This was a single stage, liquid fuel rocket. Hitler’s plan was to make a multi-stage rocket capable of sending bombs to New York City and Washington D.C., which would have brought World War Two to our shores in reality!
A lot of people think that Hitler was planning the Atom Bomb, but his experiments with that were so inconclusive that research and development money went into the rocket program. Had Hitler managed the resources and delivered an A-bomb to Washington, DC, the whole shape of the world might have changed!
When the allied forces invaded Germany in the mid-1940’s the United States and Russia scooped up the rocket scientists and samples from the Peenemuende Research Facility. This enabled both countries to mount space programs of a very serious nature. The United States got Werner von Braun, who was the leading expert in the German program and established operations initially at Fort Bliss, Texas and later at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. The Redstone production rocket would be the first “engine” to launch a U.S. into space later in the 1960’s.
Back in the United States in the 1930’s a man named Goddard was experimenting with liquid fuel rockets and getting chased by the police for all the noise he was making, even though the experiments were done off in the wilderness.
The United States never embraced the Goddard (and his other rocket club associates) experiments to a serious enough level to make such rockets for use in World War Two.
In the 1950’s the U.S. military did embrace the concept of rocketry and were actually in competition with the Redstone project. In 1957 when Russia launched Sputnik it cause panic in the “free world” and the military attempted to launch their own satellite with a Vanguard rocket, which failed miserably. So the Redstone project was tapped to take over and the Werner von Braun operation modified a Redstone rocket to put a satellite into orbit. This new rocket was known as the Jupiter-C.
The following year (1958), President Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and their first facility in Oklahoma known as the Marshall Space Flight Center.
In 1961 Russia put the first man into space with Yuri Gagarin. This event lead to the institution of the “Mercury” space program at the Marshall Center, which was the basis for the film made later in the 20th century called “The Right Stuff.’
Aside from vertical rockets, rocket planes were also being tested, the most famous of which is the X-15. This rocket plane was carried aloft by jet or propeller craft and then launched at a high altitude.
The first actual trip into space was made unofficially by a test pilot in a jet-rocket plane (the NF-104) which actually left the atmosphere (over 104,000 feet or something under 18 miles up) and saw the blackness of outer space for a few moments, before crashing back to Earth. The pilot, Chuck Yeager, who didn’t qualify for the Mercury program (he wasn’t a college graduate, although he was a former war pilot) walked away, knowing he made it into the fringe of space before Alan Shepard, who was launched in a Mercury-Redstone rocket just a little while afterwards.
Shepard flew over 100 miles up and was in space for just 15 minutes on a “sub-orbital” flight from “The Cape” in Florida (Cape Canaveral or as it was later called Cape Kennedy) into the Atlantic ocean. Gus Grissom followed him in another sub-orbital flight later that same year and then John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth several times before returning to the Atlantic Ocean for a sea recovery.
These astronauts referred to their work as being put into a 50 gallon drum mounted on top of a big stick of dynamite. Musician David Bowie copped this line in his classic “Space Oddity” (“...I am sitting in a tin can...”).
The crowing glory was in the late 1960’s when Neal Armstrong set foot on the moon, the ultimate first. Someone from Earth setting foot on a distance body out in deep space.
America and Russians went higher, flow more people and had a few disasters. The Russians once lost a whole crew during re-entry. America lost a whole crew in a pre-flight test when a fire started inside one of these “tin cans” and later during the Shuttle Program one ship blew up just after takeoff, killing the first civilian, a woman school teacher who “won” a trip into space on the shuttle. The latest disaster was last year when a Shuttle disintegrated during reentry due to ruptures in the heat tiles that allowed searing hot gasses (known as plasma) to super heat the insides of the ship and cause a break up of the entire craft just a few moments away from landing time. We also almost lost Apollo 13 when an oxygen tank exploded. This became the subject of a Ron Howard Film starring Tom Hanks.
The early V-2 rockets of Von Braun and Hitler used alcohol and liquid oxygen as propellants. These days we use a hydrogen compound and liquid oxygen. When these two chemical mix together, even in outer space, they cause instant combustion.
In order to reach outer space one needs to overcome gravity by reaching a velocity of close to 8 miles per second and maintain this long enough to reach a distance where you can resist gravity for a while by spinning in orbit at high speeds. This means you must travel 23,000 miles per hour.
Right now the fastest “rockets” we have travel in space at close to 35,000 miles per hour. At that speed when the nearest planet Mars (33 million miles) approaches closest point it would take 42 days to reach Mars from Earth at best. Since the distance from Mars to Earth changes each day, in actual practice it would probably take 50 days to go and 50 days to come back. Your stay there would be limited to a few weeks maximum, as every day another million miles in separation occurs after the closet point is reached. This means round trip to Mars for a two week visit would require keeping astronauts in space for a full 4 months!
Our Outer Space Special Continues With The Following From 2005...
Space Special |
Rocketing Into Space |
India In Space |
Europeans In Space
Women Among The Stars |
Cosmology and Astronomy |
Reaching For The Stars
Antigravity (Fiction) |
Not To Go Into Space (Opinion) |
Night Skies January-February 2005 |
Space in Film, TV, VHS and DVD
Astrology January-February |
Cartoons Part 5 (Marvin The Martian) |
Books (Space in Print)
Music (Space in Melody)