The first steps on the moon mark one of the most iconic moments in American history. That historic walk in space first got its footing decades earlier in the heart of the Commonwealth.
The expedition 50 years ago was possible thanks in part to Robert Goddard, the man known as the “father of modern rocketry” who graduated from WPI in 1908.
“Only a few years after graduating he pattered the liquid fueled rocket and the multi stage rocket that’s exactly the rocket that took the Apollo rocket to the moon”. said Dr. Laurie Leshin, a rocket scientist, former NASA official, and the current president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Today the building that once housed his lab still stands, and stories are still told of the loud booms and explosions often heard around campus from his experiments.
“He was driven, he was a visionary and he was not going to stop until he figured out how to get us beyond earth,” says Leshin.
Fordyce Williams, the Coordinator of Archives and Special Collections at Clark University says, “Robert Goddard is the first person who took the theory he had devised and turned it into a working rocket that took off ”.
At Clark University, an exhibit paying tribute to Goddard’s work sits on display inside the library bearing his name.
Goddard received his master’s degree and PhD from the school and later went on to become a professor there.
Williams says, “Goddard has 214 patents and those, the US Government admitted, were the basis of their rocketry programs”
The exhibit includes letters and patent applications and celebrates a man whose work received very little celebration during his lifetime.
“I think now he’s still not as well-known as he could be for a man who had an amazing effect on the US rocketry program as well as rocket programs around the world,” says Williams.
His work is now praised for making an “out of this world” of difference.
Leshin says, “When you’re a visionary and when you believe in an idea you’ve got to keep working on it and see it through. I’m just sad he didn’t live to see the Apollo astronauts walk on the moon”.
Today – Clark University will be opening the Robert Goddard exhibit to the public. Also --- the city of Worcester will be holding events and celebrations citywide. More information can be found at https://www.worcesteronthemoon.com.