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The Shot Heard 'Round Aunt Effie's Cabbage Patch

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By Tom Logsdon

It was the middle of March, but still the ground was covered with fresh snow and the wind swept in over the north pasture and swirled around the gangling apparatus. He flipped up his rough collar against the wind, but it was hopeless; even fastening all the snaps on his galoshes and buttoning the bottom button of his topcoat would not have kept out the chilly Massachusetts wind. He glanced out at the hazy horizon and then up at the launch apparatus hoping he had thought of everything. The test conditions were far from ideal. The cold air could crack the nozzle and even if it got aloft the wind could drive his awkward little vehicle into the ground before burnout. But it was pointless to consider the risks now, he was committed. The launch would take place today.

He posed for a quick photograph and then, crouched behind a wooden lean-to, he cautiously pointed a blowtorch in the direction of the ungainly framework. In an instant, the tiny rocket hurled itself 41 feet into the air and within 2.5 seconds the terrifying roar was over.

It was 1926, Charles Lindbergh had not yet made his transatlantic flight, and yet Dr. Robert Goddard stood over the remains of his tiny rocket, smoldering and unimpressive in the snow, and dreamed of rocket flights to the moon and beyond.

There would be other launches far more impressive. Forty years later, television newsman Walter Cronkite would desperately brace himself against the windows of his trailer as they rattled from the blast of a rocket 3 miles away; but here today in Aunt Effie's cabbage patch, the world's first liquid-fueled rocket had been flight tested.

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