Rockets and Missiles

The rocket, a reaction-propulsion device that carries all of its propellants internally, has been around for almost a millennium since its invention in China around the year 1000. But the twentieth-century saw a technological explosion of new rocket-propulsion systems, using both solid and liquid propellants. Within a couple of decades, rockets and missiles had begun to alter the course of the twentieth-century. With their emergence, nations began to create new weapons, but the technology also made the dream of spaceflight a reality. Explore the world's best collection of rockets and missiles, hear from our experts, and plan a visit to see our artifacts in person.

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  • Tsiolkovsky Rocket Concept Illustration

    Tsiolkovsky spent much of his life thinking about atmospheric flight. Later in life he began considering the idea of rocket flight in space.

  • Goddard with the Vacuum-Tube Apparatus

    Robert Goddard with the vacuum-tube apparatus he used to prove a rocket would work in space. This photo was taken in June 1916.

  • Goddard’s Flight of August 26, 1937, at Roswell

    This Goddard rocket had gimbaled steering (swiveling the rocket nozzle rather than using vanes in the exhaust) and catapult launching.

  • Wernher von Braun

    Wernher von Braun, born in Wirsitz, Germany, in 1912, led the development of the V-2 in Nazi Germany and came to the U.S. in 1945.

  • Saturn V F-1 Engine Diagram
    Diagram of the F-1 engine. Five F-1 engines were clustered at the bottom of the Saturn V rocket, used to launch the Apollo lunar missions into space.
  • F-1 rocket engines in Apollo to the Moon

    Five huge F-1 rocket engines were needed to lift the 30-story-tall Saturn V Moon rocket off the launchpad. Through the use of mirrors, one full engine and a one quarter cutaway produce a view of the five-engine cluster at the base of the Saturn V first stage. The F-1 rocket engines are on display at the National Air and Space Museum in the Apollo to the Moon exhibit.

  • Jupiter AM-18

    Jupiter AM-18, the rocket that took Able and Baker into space, pre-launch.

  • Regulus I Missile

    The Regulus 1 was the first operational U.S. Navy cruise missile. 

  • AGM-86B Cruise Missile

    AGM-86B Cruise Missile on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center.

  • Sparrow 2 Missile
    This is the U.S. Navy Sparrow 2 air-to-air missile, designed and built by the Douglas Aircraft Company. The Sparrow family of missiles originated in 1946 and became one of the largest and most important missile programs for the United States, NATO, and other U.S. allies.