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Robert Goddard, Father of Rocketry

United States Master Collection, Scott C69

The 8-cent Robert Goddard air mail stamp was issue October 5, 1964. (Scott C69)

The success of the American space program depended on the ingenuity and discoveries of many scientists. One in particular would lay the ground work for manned spaceflight more than any other.

Known as the “father of rocketry,” Robert Goddard pioneered the modern propulsion rocket based on his knowledge of math, engineering and physics. He launched his first rocket in March 1926. At the time, Goddard’s work was viewed with a skeptical eye by the press and public. However, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) later identified this launch “as epochal in history as that of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.”

Goddard continued to achieve many firsts in the field of rocketry with funding from institutions such as the Smithsonian. Some of his accomplishments included creating the first rocket propelled using liquid fuel and developing the first rocket to use internal vanes for guidance. The vanes were built-in components that deflected exhaust from the rocket’s engine, determining which direction the rocket would fly once launched. His innovations had a tremendous impact on space flight technology, leading NASA to name its first space flight laboratory after Goddard in 1959.

In 1964, the Post Office Department (POD) issued a stamp commemorating Robert Goddard. The stamp depicts an image of Goddard next to a rocket launching from the Kennedy Space Center. The POD released the stamps at a ceremony held in New Mexico. Esther Goddard, the wife of the famous engineer and physicist attended the ceremony. She pressed a button launching two rockets, one of which flew approximately a mile and a half into the air. The rockets, each carrying 1,000 first day covers, after falling to the ground were recovered with the first day covers later sold to collectors.