The Day Goddard Dreamed of Taking a Rocket to Mars

By Alexis C. Madrigal

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

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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. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/10/the-day-goddard-dreamed-of-taking-a-rocket-to-mars/263856/