Rocket Facts for Kids

A rocket is any vehicle that obtains thrust from a rocket engine. Thrust is the forward force caused by high velocity rearward ejected exhaust gases. A rocket engine works by action and reaction, according to Newton’s Third Law. There are many uses for rockets, such as space craft, missiles, aircraft, science satellites, even fireworks.

The history of the rocket began in China with the discovery of black powder. The Chinese made many uses of black powder, including fireworks, cannons, bombs, and early rockets. The use of rockets spread to Europe in the 13th to the 15th centuries. The mongols Genghis Khan and Ogedei Khan used rocket technology in their conquests of Russia and parts of eastern and central Europe.

In the 17th century, Sir Issac Newton laid the foundation for modern rocketry, and wrote his three laws of motion. The three laws are that first, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Second, force is equal to change in momentum per change in time. And third, every object in its state of rest or uniform motion remains in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by impression upon it. In the 1800s, artillery expert Colonel William Congreve designed improved rockets used by the British. Congreve rockets were used in the bombardment of Fort McHenry in the war of 1812, prompting Francis Scott Key’s famous Star Spangled Banner line, “the rocket’s red glare.”

In 1898, Russian school teacher Konstantin Tsiolkovsky proposed space exploration by rocket. He proposed using liquid propellant to achieve greater range. In the early 20th century, American Robert Goddard developed the idea that would become the first meteorological sounding rocket, and achieved the first successful flight with a liquid propellant rocket.

In the 1930s, German engineers began work on what would become the V2 rocket, which was used in World War II for bombardment and was considered the to be father to most modern rockets. Wernher Von Braun and many others contributed to the development of ballistic missiles. After World War II ended, many German scientists found their way to the United States and the Soviet Union, including Wernher Von Braun to the United States. Von Braun later became a key member in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union began the space race between the US and the Soviets by launching the first earth-orbiting satellite, Sputnik I. Less than a month later, they launched another satellite carrying the dog Laika. On January 31, 1958, the United States launched Explorer I in answer to the Soviet launches. In October 1958, the United States created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA.

Rockets are now used to power many kinds of scientific research devices. Weather satellites allow us to track and predict weather and gather information to help keep us safe. Communication satellites allow us to pass information quickly around the world, whether it is voice or data. Research satellites are used for environmental monitoring and map making. Rockets now even launch space stations high above our heads into space.