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You don't have to be a rocket scientist to enjoy a trip to Clark University's Robert H. Goddard Library.
As a professor of physics for 29 years, Goddard did rocket research that made him the father of a field that eventually put humans on the moon. A permanent exhibit at the campus library commemorates his work and lays out this city's claim to be the Kitty Hawk of modern rocketry.
Scholars come here to examine Goddard's papers, and visitors from six continents stop in to see the small exhibit explaining Goddard's life and vision of space travel.
"When people ask me how long should I stay, I say 20 minutes," says Mott Linn, coordinator of archives and special collections. "But you get some Goddard or rocketry diehards who will stay for an hour."
Though his passion was rocketry, Goddard was a polymath, skilled in several disciplines, and a number of his other interests are on display at the library. There is an early radio tube _ a device he patented _ and material on his budding interest in solar power.
"Even though he never got a rocket into space, he was already considering, "How do I provide energy to a rocket that's already in space?' " Linn says.
Goddard grew up in Worcester, and he claimed his passion for propulsion was born as he climbed a cherry tree in 1899, at age 17. Whether apocryphal or not, the vision changed his life, infusing him with an enthusiasm that lasted until his death in 1945.
In 1919, Goddard published a short book titled A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes. It garnered some attention, not all positive. In an editorial, the New York Times haughtily dismissed Goddard's notion that a rocket could work in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere, saying Goddard "seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools."
Goddard defended himself to the Associated Press and told one reporter "every vision is a joke until the first man accomplishes it." In 1969, as Apollo 11 raced through space and three days before it landed on the moon, the New York Times printed a correction.
Other adventures are chronicled here. In 1926, Goddard designed a rocket with enough thrust to lift itself off the ground. He tested it in March of that year _ the first liquid fuel rocket ever successfully fired _ on his wife's farm in nearby Auburn.
Three years later, one of his rockets crashed on the farm with a spectacular bang. "Terrific Explosion as Prof. Goddard of Clark Shoots his "Moon Rocket,' " screamed the headline in the Worcester Evening Post. Inside was news that the fire marshal wanted Goddard kicked out of the state.
It was a blessing in disguise. Philanthropist Daniel Guggenheim saw the story and offered to fund Goddard's work. Goddard approached a colleague in Clark's renowned geography department and asked him to determine the best possible climate for rocket testing.
"Eastern New Mexico," the colleague replied. So, in 1930, Goddard set up shop in Roswell, giving the area its start as the rocket-testing capital of the world and later a famed hotspot for UFO watchers.
Though his research took him elsewhere, he remained on Clark's faculty until 1943. In 1969, when Clark opened a new library, it named the building after Goddard.
"It'd be hard to argue he was the father of the Space Age, because he never got a rocket into space," Linn says. "But there's no doubt he was the father of modern rocketry." The Chinese had experimented with gunpowder rockets, but none had the control or power needed for space flight.
Indeed, Goddard never shot a rocket higher than two miles _ a far cry from outer space. Still, scientists recognize his work as the building blocks of the field. Among his other accomplishments: an internal navigation system and the first rocket to break the sound barrier.
Many of the few hundred visitors here each year are just curious, Linn says. But many are rocket scientists themselves who appreciate Goddard's contributions.
"Some people will hover over every word," he says.
If you go
GETTING THERE: The Robert H. Goddard Library is on Downing Street in the center of the Clark University campus in Worcester, Mass.
HOURS: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. For holiday hours, call (508) 793-7572.
PARKING: On the street and in a visitor parking lot at admissions office, one block away on Maywood Street.
INFORMATION: Call (508) 793-7572 or online at libref.clarku.edu/offices/library/.