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Launch Magazine's History of American Rocketry

The Space Race, Model Rockets, and The New Frontier

A must-have for anyone fascinated by space travel, rocketry, NASA, SpaceX, and more!

A new era in spaceflight, led by SpaceX and other commercial rocket companies, is generating the kind of worldwide interest in space travel that we haven’t seen since the space race of the 1960s. Kids are dreaming of becoming astronauts again. New feats, such as SpaceX’s remarkable ability to land booster rockets, under powered descent, back on land or sea has galvanized a new generation of rocket enthusiasts. Yet none of this would be possible without the advances of rocketry over the past century.
 
The Chinese were the first to develop black-powder fireworks and rockets centuries ago, but modern rocketry truly began with Robert Goddard’s launch of a liquid-fueled rocket on a Massachusetts farm in 1926. That metal contraption—which  flew just 41 feet high before arching over and streaking 184 feet into a cabbage patch—came just 43 years before Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon on July 20, 1969. Armstrong’s Apollo 11 mission was made possible by a giant 36-story-tall Saturn V rocket that used some of the same propulsion principles as Goddard’s first tiny, crude rockets.
 
The beginning of the “Space Age” is considered to be Russia’s launch of the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. But it was the pioneering human spaceflights of the 1960s that captured the imagination of the world and turned astronauts into heroes. Weapons of war—the Redstone, Atlas, and Titan II missiles—were converted into civilian launch boosters and led to the success of the Mercury and Gemini programs. All the while, Saturn rockets were being developed that would ultimately lead to the moon missions. Kids were so excited about these pioneering space flights that an entirely new hobby—model rocketry—was created to serve their interests. Small scale models of NASA’s big rockets were ordered by the millions, generating a $100 million hobby at a time when there were no video games, no internet, and no cable, just three broadcast television networks.
 
Now, the next generation of  rockets from SpaceX and other commercial companies, along with NASA’s new launch vehicles and Orion spacecraft, will lead the United States and the world into a new era of rocketry—beginning with crewed flights to the moon as early as 2024, and ultimately to Mars within the first half of this century.
 

Mark Mayfield is the author of Back on Top! The Alabama Crimson Tide’s 2015-16 Championship Football Season, co-author of Crimson Domination: The Process Behind Alabama’s 15th National Championship and author of The Spaceflight Vault: A History of NASA’s Manned Missions. He currently serves as editorial adviser and associate director in the University of Alabama’s Office of Student Media. Mayfield is also a former editor-in-chief of House Beautiful, Traditional Home, and Art & Antiques magazines and, early in his career, spent ten years as a reporter for USA Today. A married father of four, he lives in Tuscaloosa, Alaabama.

More books from this author: Mark Mayfield