Robert Goddard was born on October 5, 1882 in Worcester, Massachusetts. As a youth, he spent a good deal of time reading and dreaming. He first developed an interest in space after reading the book "The War of the Worlds" by H.G. Wells. Later, he imagined how great it would if he could create a device that could travel to Mars after being launched from the ground.
After graduating from school, he applied and was accepted at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He graduated with a physics degree in 1908 and was made a Fellow in the physics department at Clark University. In 1910, he received his master's degree and in 1911 he received his doctorate.
In 1914, Goddard started working on realizing his dream by building rocket engines. His work was sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution and they published a book about his ideas in 1919. Entitled "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes", the book outlined his mathematical theories regarding rocketry, as well as the results of his research in both solid and liquid fuels.
In 1917, Goddard demonstrated a concept where a rocket with an explosive payload was launched from a shoulder-mounted tube. The device became known as the bazooka and served as an important weapon with the sudden popularity of armored vehicles. Although the weapon was not developed in time for World War 1, it was widely used in World War 2 and is now standard equipment.
On March 16, 1926, Goddard constructed the first liquid-fueled rocket and launched it in Auburn, Massachusetts. Although the rocket only shot to an altitude of approximately 41 feet, it was a proof of concept and showed that liquid fuels were feasible. The rocket used front-propulsion, which has since been phased out in favor of rear propulsion.
After securing funding for his research from Harry Guggenheim, Goddard moved to Roswell, New Mexico to further pursue research. During the 1930s, he attempted to convince the United States military of the importance of rockets in warfare, but was largely ignored until the Germans started using rockets in World War 2. The German V-2 rockets, in fact, were based on Goddard's ideas and Wernher von Braun even contacted Goddard about technical questions.
During World War 2, Goddard also became the target of a German espionage mission involving Abwehr. An Abwehr agent named Nikolaus Ritter recruited a mole in the United States to spy on Goddard and send any information to the Germans. Since Goddard's work at this time was not very advanced, it did not do much to help, however.
After the Army declined to fund Goddard's rocket research, he was hired to work on experimental aircraft in the United States Navy. Towards the end of World War 2, he inspected German V-2 rockets in an effort to reverse engineer them.
In 1945, he was diagnosed with throat cancer and died on August 10, 1945 in Baltimore, Maryland. He was taken to his hometown of Worcester to be buried in the local cemetery.