Rocket Scientist

"By the late 1930s [the pioneering rocket scientist Robert Goddard] grew troubled. He had noticed long before that of all the countries that showed an interest in rocketry, Germany showed the most. Now and then, German engineers would contact Goddard with a technical question or two, and he would casually respond. But in 1939 the Germans suddenly fell silent. With a growing concern over what might be afoot in the Reich, Goddard paid a call on Army officials in Washington and brought along some films of his various Nells [rockets]. He let the generals watch a few of the launches in silence, then turned to them. 'We could slant it a little,' he said simply, 'and do some damage.' The officers smiled benignly at the missile man, thanked him for his time and sent him on his way.

"The missile man, however, apparently knew what he was talking about. Five years later, the first of Germany's murderous V-2 rockets blasted off for London. By 1945, more than 1,100 of them had rained down on the ruined city."

[During the war a captured German scientist was asked about the origin of the V-2. "Why don't you ask your own Dr. Goddard?" he allegedly responded. "He knows better than any of us."]

[In his early days, Goddard regularly filed his research under misleading titles -- "Formulae for Silvering Mirrors," for example -- lest it fall into the wrong hands.]

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