"The State of The World" Number 20
Complete Index Of All Issues
The Rockets' Red Glare
Rockets were invented, along with gunpowder, in China in the 13th century. By coincidence, accident or design, gunpowder, fireworks and rockets were born together.
The Chinese soon however made military use of their rockets, which although at first were not all that accurate or powerful, terrorized enemy forces into retreat.
The development of rockets as military weapons then continued through India, the Middle East and Europe. Notice how the painting below, done in 1405, shows a rocket that is modern in design, or moreover, that modern-day rockets are actually quite ancient in design.
The first modern-day manned rockets were built by the Soviet Union (first man in space, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on April 12 1961) and the U.S. (first U.S. Astronaut in space, Alan Shepard on May 5 1961), however there is an account of Lagari Hasan Celebi of Turkey who reportedly built and survived a land-launched, water "splashdown" flight in 1633. The flight was done at Istanbul into the adjacent sea with a rocket powered by 140 pounds of gunpowder. As the saying goes, "Don't try this at home."
The British Congreve military rocket was invented by Sir William Congreve in 1804 for use in the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. They were also used by Royal Marines in the War of 1812-1814 in North America where the bombardment of Fort McHenry provided the "and the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air" line of the U.S. National Anthem.
Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime used military rockets in their bombardment of Europe and Britain. A key developer of Hitler's rockets was the Nazi scientist Wernher von Braun. Immediately after the war ended in 1945, rocket-specialist von Braun was hustled out of Germany, where he may have faced a war crimes trial along with the others, and declared to a "reformed Nazi" - although many at NASA, where von Braun worked on U.S. rockets, preferred the term "the NASA Nazi" for him - as did Jews who survived the Holocaust.
Today, rockets are built and flown by many nations, most for high-altitude scientific research, many for military use, and a few for launching satellites and humans into space.