100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

Space Flight
Year of Invention: 1961

What Is It? Human crewed ships blasted beyond the earth’s atmosphere into
open space.

Who Invented It? Wernher von Braun (in Huntsville, Alabama)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

Space flights are the first human steps beyond our own planet and represent one of the great expansions of human horizons. Space flights over the past 40 years have gathered a wealth of information about our own planet and about the cosmos. Major physics, biology, medicine, and astronomy theories have been reshaped and rebuilt based on data collected by these manned space flights. Our views of ourselves, our planet, our galaxy, and our universe have been vastly improved by flights into space.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

Space flights need rocket power. (Rockets and jets use the same type of combustion engine. Jets, however, suck in the oxygen they need from the air they fly through and therefore only carry fuel. Rockets carry their own supply of oxygen as well as fuel and therefore can fly where there is no atmosphere.)

Solid fuel rockets date back to 1100 in China. However, solid fuels could never develop the immense power needed to break free of Earth’s gravity.

In 1903 (the same year that the Wright brothers first flew), Russian physicist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky wrote in detail about rocket theory, rocket propulsion, space suits, satellites, and space rockets. No one gave his work serious consideration for another 30 years.


How Was Space Flight Invented?

Rocket development started in the United States before 1920, and its eventual success hinged on the work of two men.

Robert Goddard had toyed with ideas, theories, and equations for rocket flight for years. In 1913, 31-one-year-old Goddard organized his rocket research data and ideas into patent applications—one for a multistage rocket and one for using two tanks filled with

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