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A history of rocket science

Published: 29th September, 2020 at 12:01
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From steam powered devices in Ancient Greece to man's first steps on the Moon, this is the history of rocket science.

1st Century AD

Hero of Alexandria, 1st century BC, Greek scientist (physicist and mathematician), steam-powered device © Mary Evans
Hero of Alexandria, Greek physicist and mathematician, invents a steam-powered device in the 1st Century AD © Mary Evans

Hero of Alexandria creates his aeolipile device.

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This Greek engineer, who specialises in exotic machinery, makes a metal sphere rotate using a pair of steam-emitting rocket nozzles.

13th Century AD

© Getty Images
© Getty Images

Although gunpowder has been in use in China for around 200 years, this century sees the first recorded production of gunpowder-powered rockets.

Read more about rocket science:

1903

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky © Wikimedia Commons
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky © Wikimedia Commons

Russian schoolteacher Konstantin Tsiolkovsky publishes his book Investigating Space With Reaction Devices, defining modern rocket technology.

This is also the year that the Wright Brothers first took a powered flight.

1942

A captured German V-2 rocket, the world's first guided missile, launched at the US Army testing base at White Sands, in New Mexico © Getty Images
A captured German V-2 rocket, the world's first guided missile, launched at the US Army testing base at White Sands, in New Mexico © Getty Images

The V-2 rocket-powered weapon (technically an A-4 rocket) is used for the first time to make the first long-range ballistic missile.

Though it causes devastation, the V-2 kick-starts both the US and the USSR’s space programmes.

1957

Sputnik © Getty Images
Sputnik 1 © Getty Images

A modified Russian R-7 rocket carries Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite, into space.

This tiny satellite begins the space race between the US and the USSR.

1969

Thousands of people watch Apollo 11 take off © Getty Images
Thousands of people watch Apollo 11 take off © Getty Images

Apollo 11 takes off on a Saturn V rocket, which is still the largest and most powerful rocket ever built.

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It makes history when it takes the first manned mission to land on the Moon.

Authors

Brian is a writer of popular science books, with a background in experimental physics. The topics he writes on range from infinity to how to build a time machine. He has also written regular columns, features and reviews for numerous magazines and newspapers, and given lectures at the Royal Institution in London, Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and Cheltenham Festival of Science.

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