Published March 1976 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd First Step Toward the Moon Since this is America's bicentennial year, it is both natural and proper that we recall many of our nation's great achievements. And one that should not go unnoticed is our leadership in space technology - especially since, besides being the United States' 200th anniversary, 1976 is also the 50th anniversary of man's first step toward the moon. It was March of 1926 when Robert Hutchings Goddard, a physics professor with an unshakeable faith in the potential of space exploration, met with his wife and two friends in a deserted field near Auburn, Massachusetts. With a blowtorch, he ignited the first rocket using a liquid propellant. The space age had been ushered in, although, -admittedly, few people realized it at the time. After all, the 10-pound rocket only rose 41 feet and crashed just 184 feet away from Goddard's makeshift launch pad- and the entire flight lasted less than 3 seconds. So unimpressed was the non-scientific world that The New York Times commented that Goddard "lacked t h e knowledge ladled out daily in our high schools." But scientists knew the significance of that first flight and of the American professor's knowledge of rocketry. When Wernher von Braun and the other German scientists w h o came to the United States after World War II were asked to explain Germany's advanced rocket program, they suggested the questions be directed to Goddard -- because the "advanced" German V -2 rocket of 1944 was based on a model designed by Goddard in 1939. Goddard died in 1945, virtually unheralded in his own lifetime. And it has only been in recent years that the scientist has been receiving the credit due him. In 1970, a number of his previously-unpublished papers were released by the Smithsonian Institute. They show his plans for manned a n d unmanned space exploration, including sending a rocket to land on the moon. The plans were very detailed and amazingly accurate - and they were written in 1917. In all, Goddard had 214 patents issued in his name, ranging from the bazooka to vital components of America's Atlas, Thor, Jupiter, and Vanguard rockets. The greatness of the United States has always rested with its people, and with their willingness to use hard work to make their dreams come true to accomplish what other nations and other peoples did not try. Robert Goddard was typical of so many Americans. He reached for the moon-and because of his reach, we made it.