Smithsonian National Air and Space MuseumPioneers of Flight

Rocket Pioneers

International Rocketry

Except for American Robert Goddard, all early proponents of spaceflight came from Europe. These visionaries realized that with Newton's physics, plus advances in chemistry and metallurgy, space travel could move from fantasy to reality within a few decades.

Often working in isolation, they dedicated their lives to developing and popularizing the concept of using a rocket to escape Earth and even to visit other worlds.

Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky

Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky was probably the first person to realize the rocket was the means to travel into space, and the first to work out many essential principles.

Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky
1857—1935, born in Izhevskoe, Russia
Tsiolkovsky was probably the first person to realize the rocket was the means to travel into space, and the first to work out many essential principles. Deaf since childhood, he became a high school mathematics teacher. He theorized about airships and rockets beginning in the late 1800s and published his spaceflight ideas in Russian as early as 1903.

The communist government that emerged in Russia in 1917 eventually proclaimed Tsiolkovsky as the father of Soviet rocket technology.

Hermann Julius Oberth

Hermann Julius Oberth published the book
The Rocket into Interplanetary Space in which he discussed the feasibility of human spaceflight.

Hermann Julius Oberth
1894—1989, born in Hermannstadt, Austria-Hungary
An ethnic German from Transylvania, Oberth came to his spaceflight insights before World War I. In 1923 he published the book, The Rocket into Interplanetary Space. In it he discussed the feasibility of human spaceflight, laid out the basic equations of rocketry, and described how liquid propellants could vastly exceed the performance of gunpowder rockets.

Oberth's work inspired an explosion of interest in rocketry and space travel in the German-speaking world.

Rocket Pioneers

Rocket Pioneers
Read about other international rocket pioneers and view clips of science fiction films that inspired them.
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