by Thomas Wm. Hamilton
As World War I raged in Europe for three years, the United States was quietly taking steps to prepare itself for entry into the war, despite Woodrow Wilson's running on a slogan of "He Kept Us Out Of It". One of these preparations involved trying to learn more about the meteorology of that portion of the atmosphere used by the primitive airplanes of the day-roughly 3000 to 6000 feet. The Smithsonian Institution had a War Department contract for this research, carefully disguised. The Smithsonian subcontracted with Robert H. Goddard.
Robert Goddard was a professor of engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. Long interested in space travel from having read Jules Verne as a child, Goodard built and tested rockets from near his home. The Smithsonian's contract paid for developing rockets which would carry meteorological equipment, to be recovered and provide the desired atmospheric measurements.
One clause of the contract, enthusiastically supported by Goddard, had the Smithsonian paying to publish a report of Goddard's work and findings a year after the war ended. Thus it was in November 1919, a 68 page pamphlet written by Goddard was issued by the Smithsonian, under the title "On A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes".
Most of the pamphlet was taken up with a description of the rockets (all solid fuel), equipment, and discoveries. However, on the next to last page an eight line paragraph mentioned that if the rocket fired long enough and hard enough, it could reach the Moon, and if the meteorological equipment were replaced by blasting powder, anyone looking at the Moon at the moment of arrival would see a flash of light.
The New York Times apparently got hold of a copy of the pamphlet, and in January published a short piece on its editorial page denouncing both Goddard and the Smithsonian for being ignorant of the facts "ladled out in our schools every day", that space is empty, and therefore rockets can't work outside the atmosphere because they have nothing to push against. (To be fair to the Times, they did retract this drivelling nonsense--on July 21, 1969.)
But what if the editorial writer were not a fool? The editorial actually hurt Goddard, in that it discouraged future funding to some extent. Goddard was not stopped: he went on the invent the first liquid fueled rocket on 1926, and the bazooka in time for use in World War 2. He died of cancer as the war ended, but his widow over twenty years later won a patent infringement law suit against the government for rocket design features in the Atlas and other rockets, getting a settlement of millions of dollars. But better funding might have had an impact . . .
January 1920: The NY Times congratulates Goddard and the Smithsonian on the successful research, but gently reproves Goddard for thinking too small in suggesting hitting the Moon with blasting powder. "The French have their Mr. Verne sending his countrymen to the Moon, and our British cousins have Mr. Wells sending adventurers there. Perhaps it would not have been amiss for Prof. Goddard to have suggested, in the brief mention in his monograph, the possibility of Americans someday raising the stars and stripes on our celestial neighbor."
March 1920: Inspired by the Times' editorial, Henry Ford and Otto Herman Kahn separately contact Goddard and inquire as to his future plans. Goddard explains he can no longer static test or launch rockets anywhere near his home in Worcester due to complaints by neighbors and the fire department, but plans to do his work from property his wife recently inherited at White Sands, New Mexico. Travel related expenses will of course slow his work.
May 1920: Ford, a noted anti-semite, offers to fund all Goddard's travel expenses, but will not co-operate in any way with anything Kahn proposes. Kahn quietly suggests to Goddard that he will fund engineering research in return for recognition if Goddard is successful.
August 1924: Moving ahead at a good rate, Goddard successfully launches the world's first liquid fueled rocket at White Sands, using a suggestion from Kahn that fuel from on board storage cool the feed lines into the burning chamber. Ford is so offended that he drops all support of Goddard, who switches to driving an Oldsmobile. They later use the association in their advertising with references to their cars as "rocket 24".
September 1932: Despite Kahn's death, and the Great Depression, Goddard has put together enough money to build the first manned rocket. It flies eight miles, and the pilot actually survives.
Feb. 1937: The Army Air Corps begins building rocket planes.
Dec. 7, 1941: The Japanese Imperial Navy assault on Pearl Harbor begins at 7:50 AM. By 8:40 AM, American rocket plans from Inyoken Army Air Base in southern California arrive and within twenty minutes the entire Japaese fleet is sunk. The following day most of Tokyo is flattened by rocket bombs. Japan surrenders unconditionally on January 1, 1942.
January 2, 1942: United States orders the Third Reich to cease all military operations. Hitler makes three hour speech with spittle dripping from his mouth, referring to President Roosevelt as "Rosenstein", Americans as '"juedische schweinhunden", and rockets as Jewish-subhuman terror weapons. He orders everyone in Germany working on rocket weapons shot as Jewish spies and traitors. Two days later Berlin, Dresden, and Frankfurt are flattened.
July 4, 1945: Goddard, although suffering from cancer, lands the first manned rocket on the Moon. He quotes from a New York Times editorial of a quarter century earlier as he raises the stars and stripes.