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THE STORY OF ROCKETS

From the beginning of time, a desire to know what is on the other side of the mountain or beyond the horizon has led man on to exploration and adventure. The inventive genius of man created the prairie schooner and the great sailing ships which carried him farther and farther in his quest. Even before the surface of the earth had been fully explored, man was curious about the space above it. The invention of the airplane and its first successful flight in 1903 saw the beginning of the exploration of this boundless area. For many years we were able only to gaze at the moon, the sun, the planets, and the stars in the heavens. Now the development and perfection of huge rocket vehicles will soon make it possible to reach some of these remote places in space.

While the Chinese are generally credited with the invention of the rocket as long ago as 1232 a., the rocket as we think of it today was first used in its simplest form in World War II. This was the deadly V-2, which was fired at England from Nazi bases in Europe. The V-2's had no controlling devices to direct them to a particular target.

They simply were aimed and fired. When their fuel ran out, they dropped to the ground and their warheads exploded on impact. What was, not long ago, a fanciful dream is now becoming a reality, thanks to rocket power. The vast and boundless space around the earth appears to hold nothing because we cannot see it or touch it. But as we know, the earth is surrounded for a few miles above its surface by atmosphere or air and this air is really quite solid. You can feel it if you hold a piece of cardboard on the palm of your hand and swing it broadside through the air. Planes make use of this air to fly. Sailboats are propelled through the water by making use of the air in the form of wind. There is also an invisible force around the earth. This is the force of gravitation, which pulls everything toward the center of the earth (Plate 2).

Like the air, the force of gravitation becomes less and less as the distance from the earth increases. Tie a small weight or stone to the end of a piece of string. Swing the stone around and it will pull on the string. The string acts like the force of gravitation, keeping the weight from flying away in a straight line. If you could swing the weight fast enough, however, it would break the string and fly of! in a straight line.


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