Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Carl Sagan's Hero: Robert H. Goddard

Any time Carl Sagan holds someone in high regard, you know this person must be exceptional. One such person is Robert H. Goddard.

Most people have never even heard of this man, but he can easily be compared to the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Nikola Tesla. In short, Goddard is singlehandedly responsible for the development of rocket science.

The sad thing is he was way ahead of his time and thus was ridiculed when he first presented his ideas. It was not until after his death that he was appreciated for what he had truly accomplished.

When he first proposed in 1919 that traveling to the moon in a rocket propelled vehicle was possible, almost all major newspapers and magazines criticized him for even thinking of such a preposterous idea. Everyone "knew" at the time it was impossible to travel through space, since there was no atmosphere to push against.

Goddard was not discouraged. Instead, he devoted himself to accomplishing his goal. For the next two decades, he worked tirelessly (and usually alone) to make space travel possible.

Carl Sagan wrote about Goddard in his book "The Dragons of Eden", page 88.

Read more about this fascinating individual at: Wikipedia


  1. 'Single handedly responsible for the rocket?'

    What about Tsiolkovsky?

    US centrism FTL.

  2. As a longtime Sagan fan, I've got to say, what a great idea for a blog! I've done my share of Sagan-related blogging myself, both at my personal blog and at the Celebrating Sagan blog (both linked to from my profile); and I think I know my share of the "chapter and verse" of Sagan's writings (when The Demon-Haunted World came out, I reread it over and over obsessively to the point of nearly memorizing it). Given the amount of unusual topics Sagan discussed, there's a ton of material for this blog; I actually just did a post about Sagan's opinion of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom books, after seeing a copy of A Princess of Mars that had a Sagan blurb on the back cover. (I don't see any contact info for you on this blog, but if you want to contact me you can get my email off of my blog sidebar.)

    I can't resist pointing out that the Goddard footnote in The Dragons of Eden isn't the most extensive discussion of Goddard in Sagan's writings; "Via Cherry Tree, to Mars" in Broca's Brain is an entire book chapter devoted to the man :) I think that Sagan's prescience in matters related to space travel is also evident in his recognition of the value of Gerard O'Neill's space colony ideas, which offer a way forward from the post-Apollo neglect of manned space travel, and which have been as neglected in the last 30 or so years after their brief wave of popularity in the 1970s as Goddard's were in his day.

    And yes, it would be hard to count the number of people and ideas I've been introduced to from Sagan's recommendation, from Thomas Paine (isn't it a sad comment on the neglect of Paine's role in American history that I'd never heard of Paine until reading Sagan?) to science fiction (I was prompted to borrow a copy of the mind-blowing anthology Adventures in Time and Space, my first real exposure to the classics of the genre, from a friend's father due to Sagan's mention of several of its stories in Broca's Brain) to skepticism (I'd read Philip J. Klass and Martin Gardner before Sagan, but Sagan's references to classics like Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds and Fads and Fallacies is what really gave me a sense of the history of the field, and when visiting upstate NY I decided I had to visit the Cardiff Giant in Cooperstown after reading about it in Broca's Brain). And Sagan also had a way of expanding one's understanding of figures familiar as well, such as his wonderful chapter on Einstein in Broca's Brain that doesn't confine itself to Einstein's science.