It’s Rocket Science – and it’s Dangerous!

Rockets have always fascinated us and to this day a rocket launch is still a global news event worth watching. The sheer noise, power and sight after you hear that “…3-2-1, Lift off!” leave us in awe. A masterpiece of engineering, the recent historic manned SpaceX Falcon 9 launch was no exception. Or was it?

The beginnings

From the outside, a rocket does not look especially advanced – a mere ‘stick’ with a big flame shooting out at one end. The principal concept is simple, too, but the inner workings of a modern liquid-fuel rocket are highly complex.

The first rockets are believed to have existed in China, around 1200. The invention of gunpowder was crucial to the development of these primitive rockets, which were fireworks initially and then weapons. Multistage so-called ‘fire arrows’ were documented during the early Ming Dynasty (Figure 1). The designs were based on bamboo sticks – still a little way off a Falcon 9.

Figure 1: The oldest known depiction of multistage rocket arrows, from 14th-century China. The top arrow reads ‘fire arrow’, the middle ‘dragon-shaped arrow frame’, and the bottom’complete fire arrow’. Source

With the rise of gunpowder, this crude rocket technology spread throughout the Middle East and Europe.

The next rocketry milestone came in the 1780s, when the Indian military developed Mysorean rockets with iron castings and successfully deployed them against the British East India Company. Read More