Fig. 1: Image Of Rocket
Since the time human beings saw birds soaring through sky, they wished to fly. Ancient Romans and Greeks portrayed many mythological animals and gods with wings. In fact as per the legend of Daedalus and Icarus, both the father and his son broke away from prison by affixing wings made of feathers and wax to their respective bodies. Icarus flew too close to the sun and its heat melted his feathers and wax, leading him to the sea whereas Daedalus landed safe in Sicily.
Legendary characters were known to fly through heavens using mythological powers. Around 100 BC, Hero of Alexandria, a Greek Inventor, introduced a device known as aeolipile. The device used mechanical interaction of water and heat to work. Steam generated through the two elements was its driving force. By mounting sphere above the water kettle and firing it, he turned water into the steam so that gas travelled through pipes to sphere. He also placed two L shaped pipes on opposite ends of sphere to allow the gas to escape. All this gave thrust to sphere and helped it to rotate. The thrust sounded like fireworks than the rockets.
Initially, Chinese used rockets at the time of celebrations and warfares. According to a legend, Wan-Hoo, a Chinese official tried a trip to the moon with a huge wicker chair, fastened using 47 big rockets. His 47 assistants helped him to light fuses and in a blink of an eye, a roar escorted with smoke clouds, was witnessed by the onlookers. As the smoke cleared, Wan-Hoo and his chair, both were gone. Throughout the span of 13 to 15th century, many such rocket experiments took place.
One of other early devices that used principles of rocket flight was wooden bird. Aulus Gellius’s writings narrate story of Archytas from Taretum. Back in 400 B.C, he entertained and amused locals by flying his wooden pigeon suspended on the wires. This pigeon used principle of action and reaction, which was made a part of scientific law in 17th century. But for many centuries, these experimented rockets were small and use was restricted to weaponry, firework displays, signaling and sea rescues.
Towards the end of 17th century, scientific fundamentals were laid for the contemporary rocketry. Isaac Newton had worked on his perception of physical motion in 3 scientific laws. His laws give a peep into how the rockets functions and how are they able to work in vacuum of the outer space. His laws were soon seen to impact designing of the rockets. Dutch professor named Willem Gravesande had designed model cars that were driven by steam jets. And soon Russian and German experimenters worked with rockets with mass of around 45 Kgs. Out of these, some rockets were so powerful that they made deep holes in ground with their exhaust flames.
Towards end of 18th and beginning of 19th century, rockets witnessed revival as war weapon. Success of Indian rocket bombardments against British, led to their revival as a weapon. Congreve designed rockets that could be used by British military. Even with his work, accuracy of the rockets did not improve much. War rockets were known for their numbers than their power or accuracy. So rocket experimenters all over the globe worked on making the rockets accurate. And eventually, spin stabilization technique was established by William Hale. This mechanism allowed exhaust gases to struck vane at rocket’s bottom, causing it to spin like bullet in flights. In fact variations of this principle are used even today in rockets.
A clear understanding of rocket principles emerged in 20th century and eventually large rockets evolved too. Today’s remarkable collection of rockets have the roots from technology and scientific experimentation of past. Natural outgrowth of these pieces of human ingenuity, have taken many years of research and experimentation. Initially rockets used a single engine but soon fuel run-out became a big problem. And placing a small rocket on bigger rocket and firing it after first burned out, seemed good way to achieve speed. US army soon after, captured the V-2s for the experimental flights to high atmosphere and replaced payload with other rocket, “WAC Corporal”, launched from top of orbit. Weighing around 3 tons, burned out V2s were dropped using small rockets that reached a higher altitude. These days, every space rocket makes use of different stages, dropping every burned out stage while continuing with much lighter and smaller booster.
Rockets have made launch of machines and humans in space possible. Astronauts can orbit around the Earth and can land on the Moon. Hardly did anyone of us know that we can progress to this extent that we would have access to Moon. Space has been opened for commercial exploitation and exploration just because of rockets. Satellites have allowed scientist to examine our world, communicate instantly, forecast weather throughout the world with ease.
Rockets are everywhere today. Space shutters are using liquid propellant in the huge containers to relieve liftoff. Military has unmanned rockets like Minuteman. There are smarter missiles and rockets that make use of satellites for their guidance. Initial space launches by US placed astronaut on Titan Missiles.
The latest series of rockets has been named as Ares series. Ares I would be a smaller rocket planned to carry new manned capsule- Orion into space. Ares V would be much larger that would be carry heavier loads to orbit. This would have the capability to lift around 286,000 pounds. Cargo then can be transported to Mars or to Moon. Orion would be ready for launch in year 2014.
Future of this marvelous technology is in use of newer fuels. It certainly needs certain amount of effort to leave Earth’s gravity. Once spacecraft is in orbit, new kinds of propulsion would be needed. Scientists are working on development of fusion engines for the long term fuel requirements. New mission to the Jupiter may use fusion reactor to power spacecrafts for decades. Engineers are also putting in their efforts to develop spacecrafts with the huge sails to harness power of Sun and its lasers based on Earth.
Filed Under: Invention Stories