Worcester and the Space Age

By Patrick Driscoll

By Timothy Jarvis

By Patrick Driscoll
By Patrick Driscoll

Dr. Robert Goddard is known as “the father of the space age.” As a young boy, he dreamed of the possibilities of space exploration. He went on to discover the potential of rocket power. Goddard launched the first rocket propelled by liquid fuel on March 16, 1926 in Auburn, Massachusetts.

Following this, Goddard launched another rocket in 1929. This time it caught the attention of the Massachusetts fire marshal. They banned him from conducting such exercises for safety issues. As a result, Goddard didn’t receive much support in his efforts. The newspapers nicknamed Goddard “Moon Man.”

Charles Lindberg, an aviator, believed in Dr. Goddard and persuaded the Guggenheim Foundation to support his work. With the support, Goddard moved to Roswell, New Mexico where he kept working. As World War II broke out, the government hired Goddard to develop weapons for the military.

Goddard was born in Worcester in 1882, graduated from South High School in 1904, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in 1908. Also, he earned his doctorate in physics from Clark University in 1911. And, he taught physics at Clark for many years. Edwin Aldrin, father of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, was one of Goddard’s students.

Dr. Robert Goddard died in 1945. He is buried in Worcester’s hope cemetery.

After Goddard’s death, much of his space inspiration was left in Worcester. There were several inventions and processes made in Worcester that contributed to the national space program.

Allegro Microsystem was a company that did this. In 1965 they opened a factory in Worcester to make computer chips. Just before the Apollo astronauts made the journey to the moon in July 1969, NASA asked Allegro for their help. NASA officials said that the Apollo astronauts were carrying written messages from world leaders to bring to the Moon. NASA needed Allegro to create a process that could reproduce the message so they could be left on the moon for others to see in the future.

And so the company invented a thin disc made of silicon. It was slightly larger than a man’s thumb and 14/1000 inch. thick. The original messages were photographed and then stored on the disc. The messages can be read clearly under a microscope and were left on the Moon during the Apollo mission. It’s still on the Moon to this day.

Another Worcester company involved in the national space program was David Clark Company Incorporated. In 1935, David M. Clark founded the company to produce knitted fabrics. During World War II, the company made flight suits and developed the famous “anti-G” suit. This was designed to prevent the fighter pilots from passing out when taking on intense g force. The “anti-G” suit was later used by American astronauts.

During the 50’s, David Clark Company began its long partnership with the space program. When John Glenn was launched into space in 1962, in the Mercury mission, he used a David Clark headset. David Clark made the suites for the Gemini missions, and astronaut Ed White wore a David Clark suit in the first U.S. spacewalk in 1965.

When Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon on July 20, 1969, he delivered the famous “one small step for man” speech to the people of Earth using a “communications carrier,” or headset, made by David Clark.

Additionally, there was the Honematic Machine Company, established in 1956. They produced metal works, like shafts and cylinders, used by the U.S. military and factories. The company made a cylinder piece for the periscopes used in submarines.

Also, Honematic made the legs of the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM). This served as a base for the Apollo astronauts during the Moon landings.

Wyman-Gordon Company is another worth noting. The company was founded in 1883, and was one of the planet’s leaders in forging airplane and aerospace parts. They forged things like engines and  the aircraft’s body frame. Forging is the process of shaping metal after it has been heated to a plastic mold.

Over 150 Wyman-Gordon forgings went into the Saturn V Booster rocket that delivered Apollo 11 to the Moon. Also in modern times, Wyman-Gordon forged the main landing gear for the U.S. space shuttle.

And finally, one can’t overlook WPI’s influence of the national space program. Back in 1865, a John Boynton gave $1000 to Worcester for the establishment of an institute. And so, the Worcester Free Institute of Industrial Science was founded. Now called WPI, the college is one of the nation’s leading institutes in science and engineering.

And many of it’s students were later involved in the space program or NASA. Of course Robert Goddard made his name at WPI, and graduated in 1909. But, there was also Space Shuttle astronaut Albert Sacco. He was on the space shuttle Columbia in 1995, and was the head of the Chemical Engineering Department at WPI during his flight. Sacco conducted material science and biotechnology experiments while in space.

And so, this is all Worcester has done to contribute to the national space program. Worcester felt the inspiration of the space exploration drive most of the country felt at that time. Worcester’s impact on the space program is among the city’s greater accomplishments.



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