A Brief History of Rocketry – Early Rockets to Goddard

By Darren Court, Museum Director/Curator

Edited by Jenn Jett, Museum Specialist

The earliest rockets were Chinese. They developed crude rockets attached to a stick by 900 A.D. These “arrows of flying fire” were used to repel Mongol invaders at the Battle of Kai-Fung-Fu In 1232. Traveling the Silk Road across Asia, and other trade routes, rockets – called “rochetta” – were seen in Italy by 1379. Joan of Arc would have seen them in France by 1429. Captured rockets from the Indian subcontinent were studied and modified by Sir William Congreve at the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich Arsenal, England, in 1804. Such rockets were fired at Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor in 1814 – “the rockets’ red glare” referred to in The Star Spangled Banner. They and Hale rockets were used during the Mexican War and, on 3 April 1862, Confederate General Jeb Stuart fired rockets on U.S. troops during the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia.

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