George Houghton, Aerojet Inspector Gives Metcalf Rocket History
While George Houghton was working on the inspection of the heating equipment at Cragmet in Rancocas, New Jersey I had the chance to have several social evenings with George and became aware of his work. When we arrived art Aerojet in California in the summer of 1971 he invited me to his home where I was able to see many documents and photographs of the early space age.
I learned that rockets propelled by gunpowder were invented centuries ago. They were improved over the years but were not very useful in military battles. In 1898, a Russian schoolteacher, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, proposed the idea of space exploration by rocket. In a report published in 1903, he suggested the use of liquid propellants for rockets in order to achieve a greater range.
The father of modern rocket propulsion was the American, Dr. Robert Hutchings Goddard. The flight of Goddard's rocket on March 16,1926, at Auburn, Massachusetts, was as important in history as that of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk in 1903. In 1914, Goddard received two U.S. patents. One was for a rocket using liquid fuel. The other was for a two or three stage rocket using solid fuel. It was during this time that he developed the mathematical theories of rocket propulsion including the possibilities of sending humans to the moon. The press picked up Goddard' s scientific proposal about a rocket flight to the moon and erected a journalistic controversy concerning the feasibility of such a thing. Much ridicule came Goddard's way. And he reached firm convictions about the virtues of the press corps that he held for the rest of his life. Progress on all of his work was published in "Liquid Propellant Rocket Development," published by the Smithsonian in 1936.
The founder of the first company to use induction for heating and melting metals and heating graphite, Ajax Electrothermic, EH Northrup believed he could use electricity to propel an object into space and even before the Goddard document was published he spent a considerable amount of time and money building equipment to propel an object. His right hand man during this period was Ted Kennedy who would finish his working life with Inductotherm. Northrup died in 1941 a few years after he published a fiction of a man who lived to the age of eighty between 1920 and 2000. In this fiction he took us to the moon and returned safely using his electric gun plus Goddard rockets. A little of the Northrup fiction is inserted here:
"Professor Goddard made numerous calculations in 1916 and later, Upon the theoretical possibility of reaching the moon with a rocket. He took into account air friction and many other factors. He concluded that 438 kilograms of rocket would be needed at the earth's surface for every kilogram which would reach the moon, if the propellant were smokeless powder, used at fifty per cent efficiency. This achievement with the best propellant known is only possible upon the assumption that as the rocket rises more and more of itself is automatically dropped behind. The moon will never be reached by a human being in a car propelled by rockets only, unless the dream of some scientists is realized whereby we will be able to release and control the almost limitless energy stored in atoms.
However, Jean and I have satisfied ourselves that the moon may be reached if the major part of the necessary velocity required is first imparted by an electric gun, and the rocket principle is later applied to supply the deficiency."
Northrup foresaw the throw away tank and throw away solid rockets used on the space shuttle and the NERVA engine that has not yet flown. In 1999 I found an Internet friend named Barry who has a very informative and interesting web site on coil guns.
After Northrup released his book, Zero to Eighty, Goddard flew a series of rockets in the period between the 16th of February and the 29th of October 1935. One of the flights exceeded the speed of sound and another flew to 7,500 feet. Charles Lindbergh urged Goddard to give one of the rockets that did not fly to the Smithsonian. The presentation was made on the 23 of September 1935.
Hermann Oberth published a book in 1923 about rocket travel into outer space. This book was important because it led to the formation of Verein fur Raumschiffahrt (Society for Space Travel). In 1937, German engineers and scientists, including Oberth, assembled in PeenenŸmders on the shores of the Baltic Sea. There the most advanced rocket of its time would be built and flown under the directorship of Wernher von Braun. The V-2 rocket achieved its thrust by burning a mixture of liquid oxygen and alcohol.
In World War II, Goddard offered his services and was assigned by the U.S. Navy to the development of practical jet assisted takeoff and liquid propellant rocket motors capable of variable thrust. In both areas, he was successful. He died on August 10, 1945, four days after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan.
Before Goddard's death a young George Houghton spent some time with him working on the rocket to assist aircraft with additional lift. Later George went to work for Aerojet where he was assigned to the rocket test program including some work on the nuclear rocket at Jack Ass Flats near Las Vegas.
A new American president in 1945 worried about the war with Japan and Labor's Clement Attlee, who defeated Churchill, were no match for Stalin in the division of Germany with the Soviets taking control of the largest share of German industry new rocket technology.
In May 1945 Wernher Von Braun surrendered thirteen railroad cars loaded with German V-2 rockets to the American army. These rockets were quickly shipped to America with Von Braun and his staff. General Electric's Dr. Richard W. Porter was assigned the task of collecting data from the tests of these PeenenŸmders with the Army at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas and later at White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico.
Leo White was the General Electric engineer on the ground at White Sands that led the firing crew that would use these rockets to test ideas for America's missile program and other space information.
Sometimes there were failures. Albert, the first astro-monkey, was launched aboard a V-2 rocket in 1948. Three more V-2 sub-orbital flights with monkeys followed. None of the animals survived because of mechanical failures.
White was born in the county seat of Madison County North Carolina and lived in Marshall until he departed to attend college in the mid 1920's. He was two years older than his classmates at the University of North Carolina and was given the nickname "Pappy", which was to follow him the rest of his life.
Ralph Roberts published Leo White Mountain Rocket Man in 1997. The cover that claims: "Between the End of World War II and 1960, He Fired More Rockets Than Any Other Man in the World!"
Pappy's papers and photographs are stored at Mars Hill College. At least the documents that support the Man to Mars Project will be given to Mars Hill College to add to the Pappy collection. This is the county of my birth and the place where I flunked English at the college in 1949. It still shows in my writing.
The Redstone engine, developed by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, was a direct descendant of the V-2 engine. The liquid-fueled engine burned alcohol and liquid oxygen. The first flight was from the missile range at Cape Canaveral, Florida in August 1953. During the next five years, 37 of these engines were fired for tests.
The American military focused on fixed wing aircraft after World War II so most of the money was spent on jet development and production. This "hillbilly from the mountains of North Carolina just happened to hitchhike to the right place at the right time in 1955 so most of my life's work was in the field of superalloys for jet engines. In 1957 everything changed when the Soviets launched "sputnik" on the 4th of October 1957. Less than a month later, the Soviets launched a satellite carrying a dog named Laika. Laika survived in space for seven days before being put to sleep. Explorer I was launched by the U.S. Army on January 31, 1958 using a Redstone engine. An American monkey named Gordo was catapulted 600 miles high in 1958. The capsule was never found in the Atlantic Ocean, but Navy doctors said signals on his respiration and heartbeat proved humans could withstand a similar trip. In October of that year the United States created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
For the next two and one half years I was busy working on the Polaris program before returning to the business of selling and building equipment to melt superalloys for jet engines.