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jet planes, Saturn V rocket, model rockets, JATO, chemical agent

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Rocket, self-propelled device that carries its own fuel, as well as the oxygen, or other chemical agent, needed to burn its fuel. Most rockets move by burning their fuel and expelling the hot exhaust gases that result. The force of these hot gases shooting out in one direction causes the rocket to move in the opposite direction. A rocket engine is the most powerful engine for its weight. Other forms of propulsion, such as jet-powered and propeller-driven engines, cannot match its power. Rockets can operate in space, because they carry their own oxygen for burning their fuel. Rockets are presently the only vehicles that can launch into and move around in space.

A rocket can be as simple and small as a firework, which has a small amount of thrust, or as complex and powerful as the Saturn V rocket, which took humans to the Moon. British Congreve war rockets, which were used in the War of 1812, are referred to in a line of the United States national anthem: “And the rockets red glare…” Rockets have many applications both on Earth and in space. The most common and well-known use of rockets is for missiles—weapons that deliver explosive warheads through the air to specified targets. Rockets also have numerous peaceful purposes. Upper atmospheric research rockets, or sounding rockets, carry scientific instruments to high altitudes, helping scientists carry out astronomical research and learn more about the nature of the atmosphere. Jet-Assisted-Take-Off (JATO) rockets help lift heavily loaded planes from runways. Lifesaving rockets carry lifeline ropes to ships stranded offshore. Ships in distress can launch signal rockets to signal for help. Rocket ejection seats safely boost pilots out of jet planes during emergencies. Fireworks have provided entertainment for centuries, and model rockets form the basis of a popular hobby.


Winter, Frank H., B.A.

Curator of Rocketry, National Air and Space Museum. Author of "Rockets into Space" and "Prelude to the Space Age: Rocket Societies 1924-1940".

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