Who Invented the Rocket?
The rocket, as far as can be established, was invented by the Chinese during the 12th or 13th Century. The Chinese used their rockets as fireworks to mark special celebrations. A rocket has no moving parts. It is a fuel-filled container with a hole at one end where the exhaust or gases escape with such force that they propel the rocket in the direction in which it is pointed. Rockets were used as weapons in the East until the 18th Century.
Sir William Congreve added improvements in his artillery rocket, which was used in the American War of Independence and in the Napoleonic Wars. Rockets fell out of use in the 19th Century but were revived in the First World War. Their peaceful use as line carriers in sea rescues and as distress signals is well known. They are also used to deliver mail and to aid airplane take-off.
There are two categories of rocket fuel: liquid and solid. Unlike jet engines, rockets carry their own oxygen supplies, so they can be used both inside and outside the earth’s atmosphere. The space rockets carry both liquid and solid fuel. Some burn at least 1,000 pounds of fuel a second. Control of the rocket is carried out by radar and intricate design is required in directing the exhaust gases to maintain the correct flight path.
The Germans developed the rocket in the 1930s and used it in the V1 and V2 weapons which were directed at London in the Second World War. Since then enormous advances have been made by technicians and scientists working all over the world, culminating in rockets as tall as small skyscrapers and weighing thousands of tons, which are used in the exploration of space.
The name Rocket comes from the Italian rocchetta, meaning “bobbin” or “little spindle”, given due to the similarity in shape to the bobbin or spool used to hold the thread to be fed to a spinning wheel. The Italian term was adopted into German in the mid 16th century by Leonhard Fronspergerand Conrad Haas, and by the early 17th century into English. Artis Magnae Artilleriae pars prima, an important early modern work on rocket artillery, by Kazimierz Siemienowicz, was first printed in Amsterdam in 1650.
The first iron-cased rockets were developed in the late 18th century in the Kingdom of Mysore. In 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote the line “rockets’ red glare” while held captive on a British ship that was laying siege to Fort McHenry. The rockets he witnessed were an invention of William Congreve, who built a compressed-powder rocket encased in metal, increasing the effective range from 100 to 2,000 yards, first used in the Napoleonic Wars. The first mathematical treatment of the dynamics of rocket propulsion is due to William Moore (1813). In 1815, Alexander Dmitrievich Zasyadkoconstructed rocket-launching platforms, which allowed rockets to be fired in salvos (6 rockets at a time), and gun-laying devices.
William Hale in 1844 greatly increased the accuracy of rocket artillery. The Congreve rocket was further improved by Edward Mounier Boxer in 1865. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1903) first speculated on the possibility of manned spaceflight with rocket technology. Robert Goddard in 1920 published proposed improvements to rocket technology in A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes. In 1923, Hermann Oberth (1894–1989) published Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (“The Rocket into Planetary Space”)
Modern rockets originated when Goddard attached a supersonic (de Laval) nozzle to the combustion chamber of a liquid-propellant rocket. These nozzles turn the hot gas from the combustion chamber into a cooler, hypersonic, highly directed jet of gas, more than doubling the thrust and raising the engine efficiency from 2% to 64%. Use of liquid propellants instead of gunpowder greatly improved the effectiveness of rocket artillery in World War II, and opened up the possibility of manned spaceflight after 1945.
In 1943, production of the V-2 rocket began in Germany. In parallel with the guided missile programme, rockets were also used on aircraft, either for assisting horizontal take-off (RATO), vertical take-off (Bachem Ba 349 “Natter”) or for powering them (Me 163, see list of World War II guided missiles of Germany). The Allies’ rocket programs were less sophisticated, relying mostly on unguided missiles like the Soviet Katyusha rocket. The Americans captured a large number of German rocket scientists, including Wernher von Braun, and brought them to the United States as part of Operation Paperclip.
After the war, rockets were used to study high-altitude conditions, by radio telemetry of temperature and pressure of the atmosphere, detection of cosmic rays, and further research; notably the Bell X-1, the first manned vehicle to break the sound barrier. Independently, in the Soviet Union’s space program research continued under the leadership of the chief designer Sergei Korolev.
During the Cold War, rockets became extremely important militarily as modern intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The 1960s became the decade of rapid development of rocket technology particularly in the Soviet Union (Vostok, Soyuz, Proton) and in the United States (e.g. the X-15). Rockets were now used for space exploration, with the American manned programs Project Mercury, Project Gemini and later the Apollo programme culminated in 1969 with the first manned landing on the moon via the Saturn V.