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Rocketman

Who invented the rocket? Was it Englishman military officer Robert Congreve, Peruvian chemist Pedro Paulet, Russian school-teacher Constantin Tsiolkovsky or American engineer Robert Goddard? It appears that the question of who should be crowned inventor of the modern rocket depends on your definition of modern rocketry as well as your national allegiance. My Russian friend, Dr. Dimitri Lada a real rocket scientist working on Boeings reliable Delta family of launchers maintains that Constantin Tsiolkovsky deserves the credit since he worked out all the ideas behind modern space flight from the 1870s to the 1890s. Tsiolkovsky published his comprehensive mathematical findings on rocketry in 1903 although he lacked the funds to perform experimental research. The British point to Col. William Congreve who developed iron-sided military rockets first used in combat against Napoleons troops in Boulogne, France, on Nov. 21, 1805. In about half an hour, Congreve said, above 2,000 rockets were discharged. The dismay and astonishment of the enemy were complete not a shot was returned and in less than ten minutes after the discharge, the town was discovered to be on fire. South Americans argue that Pedro Paulet deserves credit since he claimed he introduced the liquid-fueled rocket in 1897. Paulet made his claim in 1927, stating, that 30 years ago when I was a student at the Institute of Applied Chemistry at the University of Paris, I tested the first liquid-fueled rocket motor. In the case of Paulets claim, we only have his word since theres no direct evidence or eyewitnesses to his 1897 first claim. In the United States, Robert Goddard is often heralded as the inventor of the modern rocket. While conducting research at Princeton University in 1912, Goddard worked on his theory of rocket propulsion using smokeless powder, hydrogen and oxygen. Later, he tested liquid-propellant rockets in Massachusetts and New Mexico. While these gentleman deserve accolades for visionary work, whether on paper or in the field, the principle of the rocket was first demonstrated in the 4th century B.C. by Archytas of Tarentum. This ancient Greek engineer created a steam-powered toy pigeon that was really a rocket by all definitions. Archytass toy bird, probably made of metal, was filled with water and hung by a copper wire over a concentrated flame. When the water inside the pigeon-rocket heated up, a jet of steam shot out of the birds backside driving it in wild circles. Later, the famous Greek philosopher-inventor Hero adapted Archytass concept to a device called an aeropile. Heros aeropile was nothing more than a hollow, rotating copper ball suspended above a pot of water. Fire heated the pot water forcing steam into a small pipe that fed the aeropile. Steam escaped from the ball through small rocket nozzles that caused the aeropile to spin rapidly. Since many experimenters dabbled with steam, powder and liquid-fueled rockets throughout the centuries between the experiments of Archytas and Goddard, it is probably impossible to crown any one man (or woman) with the august title of Inventor of the Rocket. Whats in the Sky: The stars will come out for the annual Star Light, Star Bright Star Night astronomy observation at the Hubbardton Battlefield State Historic Site this Saturday, Aug. 30, 8-10 p.m. Members of the Green Mountain Astronomers will be on hand with telescopes to focus on the planets and deep-space objects. The program is free. Lou Varricchio, M.Sc., was a NASA senior science writer. He is currently involved in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program in Vermont.

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