DOCUMENTS FROM SPACEFLIGHT FOUNDER TAKE OFF AT SWANN
Typed signed letter; from Goddard providing an introduction and reference for Ljungquist to Dr. Louis Thompson of the U.S. Naval Proving Ground; sold
Photo courtesy of Swann Galleries
As a 16-year-old boy in 1898, Robert H. Goddard read H.G. Wells’ science fiction classic "War of the Worlds." The book got him daydreaming about spaceflight.
By 1926, this dreamer of dreams designed, built and launched the world’s first liquid fuel rocket. He proved liquid rockets were a possible method for flight.
The press mocked Goddard for suggesting that such rockets could actually carry men to the moon but it never stalled his experiments. By 1969, a rocket constructed from his principles landed on the moon carrying humans.
For his work Goddard was called the father of modern rocketry and space flight. What seemed impossible a century ago seems commonplace today.
“We ought to ask ourselves whether Robert Goddard was dreaming then, or we are now,” Charles Lindbergh said.
Goddard’s early rockets were primitive and the government showed little interest. It was only through support from Lindbergh, the Smithsonian and the Guggenheim Foundation that his research continued.
“It’s appalling how short life is,” Goddard said in 1915. “How much there is to do. We have to be sports, take chances, and do what we can.”
Almost every day between 1915 and 1916 as an instructor in physics at Clark College, Goddard conducted some kind of experiment. He tinkered. He measured the explosive power of various powders. He adjusted the size and shape of nozzles.
He played around with the physics of rocketry and recorded everything. Those detailed records survive today.
It was impossible to say no to the man. Once he brought two dozen gunpowder mixtures into the lab and talked fellow scientists into running thermal tests on them. It seemed like he could easily blow up the lab and all the people in it. But, Goddard made a strong case for the thermal tests and his colleagues went along. Even though they had no idea what he was up to, they felt sure he did.
Completely absorbed in his scientific studies, Goddard was looked upon as being “slightly but harmlessly mad.” He spent much of his life developing high altitude rockets in his Roswell, NM., laboratory.
Goddard didn’t live long enough to see America actually step into the space age. But, more so than any other individual, he was the reason.
In 1960 the U.S. government recognized his work. The Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) awarded his estate $1 million for the use of his 214 rocketry patents.
“When I joined the space program and worked with rockets my dream was fulfilled. Robert Goddard was the visionary who laid the path for America’s ventures into space,” James A. Lovell, Commander of Apollo XII said.
Nils T. Ljungquist, a machinist, became an important part of Goddard’s team from 1930 to the early-1940s and appears in many photographs with him. Through the relationship, Ljungquist obtained numerous research manuscripts, drawings, technical notes and letters belonging to Goddard.
Descendants of Ljungquist consigned a selection of those documents on April 2 to Swann Galleries, New York Space Exploration auction. Here are some current values.
Robert H. Goddard
Typed signed letter; from Goddard providing an introduction and reference for Ljungquist to Dr. Louis Thompson of the U.S. Naval Proving Ground; $4,830.
Alternative forms; single sheet with detailed manuscript notes; the notes reflect the refinement necessary to create a dependable working rocket engine; $7,475.
Rocket valve drawing; single sheet with drawing on each side and brief notes; $12,650.
Manuscript and drawings; 3 drawings with technical notes; pertains to the proper operation of control valves for fuel and oxidizer. Proper and continuous operation was critical for Goddard’s rockets to maintain flight; $18,400.
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