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Rockets and Missiles


The first rocket was almost certainly constructed in China, but the date of that invention is not known. There is evidence that the Chinese knew about black gunpowder at least two centuries before the birth of Christ, but the explosive was probably used exclusively for ceremonial purposes. The concept of using gunpowder to propel an object through space probably did not arise for more than a thousand years, perhaps during the thirteenth century. Records of the time indicate that gunpowder was attached to sticks for use as offensive weapons during battle. The birth of rocketry was, therefore, intimately associated with their first use as missiles.

For a short period of time, rockets were a reasonably effective weapon in warfare. For example, French troops under Joan of Arc apparently used simple rockets to defend the city of Orleans in 1429. Military strategists of the time devised imaginative and sometimes bizarre variations on the rocket for use in battles, but such concepts were apparently seldom put into practice. The development of more efficient weapons of war, in any case, soon relegated the use of rockets to recreational occasions, such as those still popular in the United States at Fourth of July celebrations.

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