The Day Goddard Dreamed of Taking a Rocket to Mars

More

This day in 1899 was the key date in the life of our country's most celebrated rocket scientist.

788px-Dr._Robert_Goddard_at_Clark_University_-_GPN-2002-000130.jpeg


I don't tend to believe most origin stories about how people came to do their life's work, but I love this one about Robert Goddard, the father of American rocketry, anyway. As told by Goddard Space Center science writer, Daniel Pendick, it was on this day in 1899 (!) that the scientist first decided that he wanted to "fly without wings" to Mars. He climbed up a cherry tree to do some pruning and had a vision of his/the future. 

"I imagined how wonderful it would be to make some device which had even the possibility of ascending to Mars, and how it would look on a small scale, if sent up from the meadow at my feet," one of his biographers, Milton Lehman, recorded. "I was a different boy when I descended the tree from when I ascended, for existence at last seemed very purposive."

Apparently, Goddard celebrated October 19 for the rest of his life. 

To me, this is a story not unlike the one Becca Rosen told yesterday about a man who witnessed Abraham Lincoln's assassination turning up on a 1950s TV show, which then showed up on YouTube. In the scheme of technological development, a human life is a long time. 70 years before we landed on the moon, it was the 19th century. 

Jump to comments
Presented by

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Why Are Americans So Bad at Saving Money?

The US is particularly miserable at putting aside money for the future. Should we blame our paychecks or our psychology?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In