The Space History Museum
A Virtual Museum & Community

Course

Space Buff Level I

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IMAGE ABOVE: Dr. Werner von Braun developed the V2 rocket for Hitler and later became one the of top people in the American space program.

For as long as people existed, humans looked into the sky and dreamed of going into space. But it was a long time before people developed the ideas and plans that could turn those dreams into a reality.

Three pioneers who brought space travel closer are: Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Dr. Robert Goddard, and Dr. Werner von Braun.

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

Born in 1957—100 years before humans orbited the first satellite, a Russian, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, worked out how to use rockets for space travel. Starting his work in the 1880s, Tsiolkovsy wrote about a variety of space travel ideas and issues including multi-stage boosters, space stations, airlocks and thrusters for steering.

Dr. Robert H. Goddard

Dr. Robert Goddard

Dr. Robert H. Goddard, an American rocketry pioneer, is known for his development and promotion of liquid fuel rockets. While Tsiolkovsky capably worked out theories of rocketry (and was far ahead of his time), Goddard was a scientist AND an engineer who built and flew rockets. Goddard held patents on many of his inventions, including patents related to multi-stage and liquid fuel rockets. Goddard pioneered the use of gyroscopes with thrusters to control flight trajectory. During his lifetime, he received little support and a great deal of scorn. Nonetheless, he is now recognized as a giant in the early development of space travel.

Dr. Werner von Braun

To this day, Dr. Werner von Braun remains a controversial figure due his his work developing the deadly V2 rocket—a weapon Hitler used to attack London during World War II. That said, von Braun’s leading role in early rocketry and continued work on the giant Saturn V which took American astronauts to the moon, is established.

The V2 was developed by von Braun and his team of rocket scientists and engineers, as a liquid powered rocket carrying munitions to hit the civilian population of London. The size, range and power of these rockets was unprecedented for its time. After the war, von Braun and a large contingent of his team, surrendered to the Americans and served in the development of American rocketry.