Sunday, February 26, 2012

Aunt Effie's Farm

My bucket list spans several pages. Some items are difficult ("visit every existing American manned spacecraft" has been a decades-long process) but some are quite easy - - provided I set aside time to put the item as a priority "to-do."

I live in eastern Massachusetts, and one of my long-time unfulfilled bucket list items has been to visit the site of Robert Goddard's first liquid-fueled rocket launch. Today is the day I've managed to check that particular item off my list.

Goddard launched his rocket at a field on his Aunt Effie's farm in Auburn, Massachusetts. It's about 12 miles from his home in Worcester, and the site is still (fortunately) undeveloped. The reason the site is undeveloped is because it's on the 9th fairway of the Pakachoag Golf Course. There are houses scattered up and down the hills surrounding the field, but thanks to the 18 holes, Dr. Goddard's  launch site is pretty much the way he left it back in 1926.

Goddard was treated as a crackpot by newspapers of the day. The NY Times chided him for an implied ignorance of physics. "That professor Goddard, with his 'chair' in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction; and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react - to say that would be absurd. Of course, he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools."

The Times finally retracted their comment on July 16, 1969 - - the day Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins headed for the Moon in a Goddard-derived launch vehicle.

The only other place I can think of that comes close to the historical importance in the timeline of flight is Kitty Hawk. I've been to Kitty Hawk, and the reverence for the site in Massachusetts is nowhere near the veneration received by the Wright Brothers in North Carolina. The entrance to the golf course is a modest building at the top of Upland St. in Auburn. 

Nobody was at the pro shop today - - the door was locked, and there were no exterior signs pointing to the Goddard marker. Fortunately, there was Internet access on my Droid, so Captain Girlfriend and I managed to geocache our way to the memorial. 

It's a pretty far trip down the front 9 holes - - fortunately all downhill - - but an icy wind was blowing from the west. The Captain hunched up inside her coat (she never wears a hat) as we marched down the fairway.

It really was an ideal place for rocketry experiments, especially back before there were any nearby houses at the borders of this cow field. The gently sloping hill afforded a great view to see a rocket's path high in the air.

Finally, at the foot of the long hill, we spotted the marker. It's a very simple stone pillar that marks yet another place where the path of history changed forever. 

The American Rocket Society erected this memorial in 1960. Which means, of course, that the town fathers of Auburn, Massachusetts never bothered with recognizing this place for 34 years. But that's the case with most of Robert Goddard's work in America, anyway. 

Here's the mandatory bucket list picture:

And here's The Captain, patiently waiting to get her picture taken next to the stone so we could hurry up and get the heck outta there. What a trooper.

We took a fast, freezing jaunt back to the truck. I was imagining living in a house backed up to the golf course. I'd probably try and build a replica of Dr. Goddard's original pipe-nightmare rocket and donate it to the site. But probably the golf course folks wouldn't allow it.

Auburn's high school team is called "The Rockets" but that's really about all the town has done to memorialize Robert Goddard. How is it possible that this town missed the boat to capitalize on its place in history: the birthplace of modern rocketry?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting these photos. I'm hoping we can see Goddard's site this summer. Believe it or not, yours were the only decent photos on the entire Internet that I could find of Goddard's launch site. There are two other photos of the obelisk with a stuffed animal and that's about it. :)

    I agree with you concerning your comments about Auburn. What a shame to not recognize your legacy.