A Historical Timeline of Rockets

1840s cartoon of a man riding a rocket in the sky
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3000 BCE

Babylonian astrologer-astronomers begin making methodical observations of the skies.

2000 BCE

Babylonians develop a zodiac.

1300 BCE

Chinese use of firework rockets becomes widespread.

1000 BCE

Babylonians record sun/moon/planetary movements - Egyptians use sun clock.

600-400 BCE

Pythagoras of Samos sets up a school. Parmenides of Elea, a student, proposes a spherical Earth made from condensed air and divided into five zones. He also sets forth ideas for stars being made of compressed fire and a finite, motionless, and spherical universe with illusory motion.

585 BCE

Thales of Miletus, a Greek astronomer of the Ionian school, predicts the angular diameter of the sun. He also effectively predicts a solar eclipse, frightening Media and Lydia into negotiating for peace with the Greeks.

388-315 BCE

Heraclides of Pontus explains the daily rotation of the stars by assuming that the Earth spins on its axis. He also discovers that Mercury and Venus revolve around the Sun instead of the Earth.

360 BCE

Flying Pigeon (device that uses thrust) of Archytas made.

310-230 BCE

Aristarchus of Samos proposes that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

276-196 BCE

Eratosthenes, a Greek astronomer, measures the circumference of the Earth. He also finds the differences between planets and stars and prepares a star catalog.

250 BCE

Heron's aeolipile, which used steam power, was made.

150 BCE

Hipparchus of Nicaea tries to measure the size of the sun and the moon. He also works on a theory to explain planetary motion and composes a star catalog with 850 entries.

46-120 AD -

Plutarch sets forth in his De facie in orbe lunae (On the Face of the Moon's Disk) 70 AD, that the moon is a small Earth inhabited by intelligent beings. He also puts forth theories that lunar markings are due to defects in our eyes, reflections from the Earth, or deep ravines filled with water or dark air.

127-141 AD

Ptolomy publishes Almagest (aka Megiste Syntaxis-Great Collection), which states that the Earth is a central globe, with the universe revolving around it.

150 AD

Lucian of Samosata's True History is published, the first science fiction story about Moon voyages. He also later does Icaromenippus, another moon-voyage story.

800 AD

Baghdad becomes the astronomical study center of the world.

1010 AD

The Persian poet Firdaus publishes a 60,000-verse epic poem, Sh_h-N_ma, about cosmic travel.

1232 AD

Rockets (arrows of flying fire) used at the siege of Kai-fung-fu.

1271 AD

Robert Anglicus attempts to document surface and weather conditions on planets.

1380 AD

T. Przypkowski studies rocketry.

1395-1405 AD

Konrad Kyeser von Eichstädt produces Bellifortis, describing many military rockets.

1405 AD -

Von Eichstädt writes about sky-rockets.

1420 AD -

Fontana designs various rockets.

1543 AD -

Nicolaus Copernicus publishes De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs), reviving Aristarchus' heliocentric theory.

1546-1601 AD -

Tycho Brahe measures positions of stars and planets. Supports heliocentric theory.

1564-1642 AD -

Galileo Galilei first uses the telescope to observe the skies. Discovers sunspots, four major satellites on Jupiter (1610), and Venus' phases. Defends Copernican theory in Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo (Dialogue of the Two Chief Systems of the World), 1632.

1571-1630 AD -

Johannes Kepler derives the three great laws of planetary motion: planetary orbits are ellipses with the sun as one focus of the directly related to its distance from the Sun. Findings were published in Astronomia nova (New Astronomy), 1609, and De harmonice mundi (On the Harmony of the World), 1619.

1591 AD -

Von Schmidlap writes a book about non-military rockets. Proposes rockets stabilized by sticks and rockets mounted on rockets for extra power.

1608 AD -

Telescopes invented.

1628 AD -

Mao Yuan-I makes the Wu Pei Chih, describing gunpowder and rocket manufacture and use.

1634 AD -

Posthumous publication of Kepler's Somnium (Dream), a science fiction entry defending heliocentrism.

1638 AD -

Posthumous publication of Francis Goodwin's The Man in the Moon: or a Discourse of Voyage Thither. It puts forth the theory that the attraction from the Earth is greater than that from the moon Publication of John Wilkins' Discovery of a New World a discourse about life on other planets.

1642-1727 AD -

Isaac Newton synthesizes recent astronomical discoveries through universal gravitation in his famed, Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), 1687.

1649, 1652 AD -

Cyrano's reference to "fire-crackers" in his novels, Voyage dans la Lune (Voyage to the Moon) and Histoire des États etc Empires du Soleil (History of the States and Empires of the Sun). Both refer to the newest scientific theories.

1668 AD -

Rocket experiments near Berlin by the German colonel, Christoph von Geissler.

1672 AD -

Cassini, an Italian astronomer, predicts the distance between Earth and Sun to be 86,000,000 miles.

1686 AD -

Bernard de Fontenelle's popular astronomy book, Entretiens sur la Pluralité des Mondes (Discourses on the Plurality of Worlds) published. Contained speculations about the habitability of the planets.

1690 AD -

Gabriel Daniel's Voiage du Monde de Descartes (Voyage to the World of Descartes) discusses the soul's separation from the body in order to go to the "Globe of the Moon".

1698 AD -

Christian Huygens, renowned scientist, writes Cosmotheoros, or Conjectures Concerning the Planetary Worlds, a non-fictional premise on life on other planets.

1703 AD -

David Russen's Iter Lunare: or Voyage to the Moon uses the idea of catapulting to the moon.

1705 AD -

Daniel Defoe's The Consolidator tells of an ancient race's mastery of Lunar flight and describes various spaceships and legends of lunar flights.

1752 AD -

Voltaire's Micromégas describes a race of people on the star Sirius.

1758 AD -

Emanuel Swedenborg writes Earths in our Solar System, which takes Christian Huygens' non-fictional approach to discussing life on other planets.

1775 AD -

Louis Folie writes Le Philosophe Sans Prétention, about a Mercurian who observes Earthlings.

1781 AD -

March 13: William Herschel makes his own telescope and discovers Uranus. He also puts forth theories of a habitable sun and life on other planetary bodies. Hyder Ali of India uses rockets against the British (were composed of heavy metal tubes guided by bamboo and had a range of a mile).

1783 AD -

First manned balloon flight made.

1792-1799 AD -

Further use of military rockets against the British in India.

1799-1825 AD -

Pierre Simon, Marquis de Laplace, produces a five-volume work to describe the Newtonian "system of the world," entitled Celestial Mechanics.

1800 -

British Admiral Sir William Congreve began working with rockets for military purposes in England. He had originally adapted the idea from Indian rockets.

1801 AD -

Rocket experiments carried out by the scientist, Congreve. Astronomers discover that the large gap between Mars and Jupiter contains a large asteroid belt. The largest, Ceres, was found to have a diameter of 480 miles.

1806 -

Claude Ruggiere launched small animals in rockets equipped with parachutes, in France.

1806 AD -

First major rocket bombardment done (on Boulogne, using Congreve rockets).

1807 AD -

William Congreve used his rockets in the Napoleonic Wars, as the British attacked Copenhagen and Denmark.

1812 AD -

British rocket fire on Blasdenburg. Results in the taking of Washington D.C. and the White House.

1813 AD -

British Rocket Corps formed. Begin by taking action in Leipzig.

1814 AD -

August 9: British rocket fire on Fort McHenry prompts Francis Scott Key to write the "rockets' red glare" line in his famous poem. During the War of Independence, the British used the Congreve rockets to attack Fort McHenry in Baltimore.

1817 -

In St. Petersburg, Russian Zasyadko rockets were fired.

1825 AD -

Dutch forces bomb the Celebes tribe in the East Indies William Hale develops the stickless rocket.

1826 AD -

Congreve performs further rocket experiments using stage rockets (rockets mounted on rockets) as set out by Von Schmidlap.

1827 AD -

George Tucker, under the pseudonym Joseph Atterlay, represents a "new wave in science fiction," through describing a spaceship in A Voyage to the Moon with some Account of the Manners and Customs, Science and Philosophy of the People of Morosofia and other Lunarians.

1828 -

Russian Zasyadko rockets were put to use in the Russo Turkish War.

1835 AD -

Edgar Allen Poe describes a lunar voyage in a balloon in Lunar Discoveries, Extraordinary Aerial Voyage by Baron Hans Pfaall. August 25: Richard Adams Locke publishes his "Moon Hoax." He publishes a week-long serial in the New York Sun, as if written by Sir John Herschel, discoverer of Uranus, about moon creatures. This was under the title, Great Astronomical Discoveries Lately Made By Sir John Herschel.

1837 AD -

Wilhelm Beer and Johann von Mädler publish a map of the moon using the telescope at Beer's observatory.

1841 -

C. Golightly was granted the first patent in England for a rocket-airplane.

1846 AD -

Urbain Leverrier discovers Neptune.


Jules Verne published his novel, entitled From the Earth to the Moon.


Tsiolkovsky's Free Space was published by Tsiolkovsky who describes a rocket that functioned in a vacuum under Newton's Action-Reaction" laws of motion.


Tsiolkovsky published a book on space exploration which was entitled Dreams of the Earth and the Sky.


H.G. Wells published his book, The First Man in the Moon, in which a substance with anti-gravity properties launched men to the moon.


Tsiolkovsky produced a work entitled Exploring Space with Devices. Within, he discussed the applications of liquid propellants.


Robert Goddard, in his study of fuels, determined that liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen would serve as an efficient source of propulsion when properly combusted.


Russian Gorochof published plans for a reaction airplane which operated on crude oil and compressed air for fuel.


Robert Goddard was granted two U.S. patents for rockets using solid fuel, liquid fuel, multiple propellant charges, and multi-stage designs.


November 6-7, Goddard fired several rocket devices for representatives of the U.S. Signal Corps, Air Corps, Army ordinance and other assorted guests, at the Aberdeen proving grounds.


Robert Goddard wrote, and then submitted A Method of Attaining Extreme Altitudes, to the Smithsonian Institution for publication.


Herman Oberth published The Rocket into Interplanetary Space in Germany creating discussion on the technology of rocket propulsion.


Tsiolkovsky conceived the idea of multi-stage rockets, and discussed them for the first time in Cosmic Rocket Trains. A Central Committee for the Study of Rocket Propulsion was established in the Soviet Union, in April.


The Attainability of Celestial Bodies, by Walter Hohmann, described the principles involved in interplanetary flight.


March 16: Robert Goddard tested the world's first successful liquid-fueled rocket, in Auburn, Massachusetts. It attained a height of 41 feet in 2.5 seconds, and it came to rest 184 feet from the launch pad.


Enthusiasts in Germany formed the Society for Space Travel. Hermann Oberth was among the first several members to join. Die Rakete, a rocket publication, began in Germany.


The first of nine volumes of an encyclopedia on interplanetary travel was published by Russian Professor Nikolai Rynin. In April, the first manned, rocket-powered, automobile was tested by Fritz von Opel, Max Valier and others, in Berlin, Germany. In June, the first manned flight in a rocket-powered glider was achieved. Friedrich Stamer was the pilot, and flew about one mile. Launch was achieved by an elastic launch rope and a 44 pound thrust rocket, then a second rocket fired while airborne. Hermann Oberth began acting as consultant to Film Director Fritz Lang's Girl in the Moon and built a rocket for premiere publicity. The rocket exploded on the launch pad.


Hermann Oberth published his second book about space travel, and one chapter included the idea of an electric space ship. On July 17, Robert Goddard launched a small 11 ft. rocket which carried a small camera, barometer and thermometer which were recovered after the flight. In August, many small solid-propellant rockets were attached to Junkers-33 seaplane, and were used to achieve the first recorded jet-assisted airplane take-off.


In April, The American Rocket Society was founded in New York City by David Lasser, G. Edward Pendray, and ten others for the purpose of promoting interest in space travel. December 17th marked the establishment of a rocket program Kummersdorf. It was also decided that the Kummersdorf proving grounds would be equipped to develop military missiles. On December 30th, Robert Goddard fired an 11-foot liquid fueled rocket, to a height of 2000 feet at a speed of 500 miles per hour. The launch took place near Roswell New Mexico.


In Austria, Friedrich Schmiedl fired the world's first mail-carrying rocket. David Lasser's book, The Conquest of Space, was published in the United States. May 14: VfR successfully launched a liquid-fueled rocket to a height of 60 meters.


Von Braun and his colleagues demonstrated a liquid-fueled rocket to the German Army. It crashed before the parachute opened, but Von Braun was soon employed to develop liquid-fueled rockets for the Army. On April 19th, the first Goddard rocket with gyroscopically controlled vanes was fired. The vanes gave it automatically stabilized flight. In November, at Stockton N.J., the American Interplanetary Society tested a rocket design that they had adapted from the German Society for Space Travel's designs.


The Soviets launched a new rocket fueled by solid and liquid fuels, which reached a height of 400 meters. The launch took place near Moscow. At Staten Island, New York, the American Interplanetary Society launched its No. 2 rocket and watched it attain 250 feet in altitude in 2 seconds.


In December, Von Braun and his associates launched 2 A-2 rockets, both to heights of 1.5 miles.


The Russians fired a liquid, powered rocket that achieved a height of over eight miles. In March, a rocket of Robert Goddard's exceeded the speed of sound. In May, Goddard launched one of his gyro-controlled rockets to a height of 7500 feet, in New Mexico.


Scientists from the California Institute of Technology began rocket testing near Pasadena, CA. This marked the beginning of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The Smithsonian Institution printed Robert Goddard's famous report, " Liquid Propellant Rocket Development," in March.


Von Braun and his team relocated to a special, purpose-built rocket testing facility at Peenemunde on the Baltic Coast of Germany. Russia established rocket test centers in Leningrad, Moscow, and Kazan. Goddard watched one of his rockets fly to higher than 9,000 feet, on March 27. This was the highest altitude attained by any of the Goddard Rockets.


Goddard began to develop high-speed fuel pumps, in order to better outfit liquid-fueled rockets.


German scientists fired, and recovered, A-5 rockets with gyroscopic controls that attained seven miles altitude and eleven miles range.


The Royal Air Force used rockets against the Luftwaffe planes in the Battle of Britain.


In July, the first U.S. based launch of a rocket assisted airplane took place. Lt. Homer A. Boushey piloted the craft. The U.S. Navy began developing "Mousetrap," which was a ship-based 7.2 inch mortar-fired bomb.


The U.S. Air Force launched it's first air-to-air and air-to-surface rockets. After a failed attempt in June, Germans managed to successfully launch an A-4 (V2) rocket, in October. It traveled 120 miles downrange from the launch pad.


January 1st marked the beginning of long-range rocket development, by the California Institute of Technology. This testing resulted in the Private-A and Corporal rockets. In September, the first fully operational V2 rocket was launched against London, from Germany. Over a thousand V2's followed. Between the 1st and 16th of December, 24 Private-A rockets were test-fired at Camp Irwin, CA.


Germany successfully launched the A-9, a winged prototype of the first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, which was designed to reach North America. It reached almost 50 miles in altitude and achieved a speed of 2,700 mph. The launch was executed on January 24th.

In February, the Secretary of War approved the Army's plans to establish the White Sands Proving Grounds, for testing new rockets. On April 1st through 13th, seventeen rounds of Private-F rockets were fired at Hueco Ranch, Texas. On May 5th, Peenemunde was captured by the Red army, but the facilities there were mostly destroyed by the personnel.

Von Braun was captured by the U.S. and relocated to the White Sands proving ground in New Mexico. He was made part of "Operation Paperclip."

May 8th marked the end of the war in Europe. At the time of the German collapse, more than 20,000 V-1's and V-2's had been fired. Components of approximately 100 V-2 rockets arrived at the White Sands Testing Grounds, in August.

On August 10, Robert Goddard died due to cancer. He died at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore.

In October, the U.S. Army established its first Guided Missile Battalion, with the Army Guard Forces. The Secretary Of War approved plans to bring top German rocket engineers to the U.S., in order to further knowledge and technology. Fifty-five German scientists arrived at Fort Bliss and White Sands Proving Grounds, in December.


In January, the U.S. outer space research program was started with captured V-2 rockets. A V-2 panel of representatives of interested agencies was formed, and more than 60 rockets were fired before the supply was finally exhausted. On March 15, the first American built V-2 rocket was static-fired at the White Sands Proving Grounds.

The first American-built rocket to leave the earth's atmosphere (the WAC) was launched on March 22nd. It was launched from White Sands and attained 50 miles of altitude.

The U.S. Army began a program to develop two stage rockets. This resulted in the WAC Corporal as the 2nd stage of a V-2. On October 24th, a V-2 with a motion picture camera was launched. It recorded images from 65 miles above the earth, covering 40,000 square miles. On December 17th, the first night-flight of a V-2 occurred. It achieved a record-making 116 miles of altitude and velocity of 3600 mph.

German rocket engineers arrived in Russia to begin work with Soviet rocket research groups. Sergei Korolev built rockets using technology from the V-2.


The Russians began launch tests of their V-2 rockets, at Kapustin Yar.

Telemetry was successfully used for the first time in a V-2, launched from White Sands. On February 20th, the first of a series of rockets was launched for the purpose of testing ejection canister effectivity. On May 29, a modified V-2 landed 1.5 miles south of Juarez, Mexico, narrowly missing a large ammunition dump. The first V-2 to be launched from a ship was launched from the deck of the U.S.S. Midway, on September 6th.


On May 13th, the first two-stage rocket launched in the Western Hemisphere was launched from the White Sands facility. It was a V-2 that had been converted to include a WAC-Corporal upper stage. It reached a total altitude of 79 miles.

White Sands launched the first in a series of rockets that contained live animals, on June 11. The launches were named "Albert," after the monkey that rode in the first rocket. Albert died of suffocation in the rocket. Several monkeys and mice were killed in the experiments.

On June 26, two rockets, a V-2 and an Aerobee were launched from White Sands. The V-2 attained 60.3 miles, while the Aerobee attained 70 miles altitude.


A number 5 two-stage rocket was launched to 244 miles of altitude, and 5,510 mph velocity over White Sands. It set a new record for the time-being, on February 24.

On May 11, President Truman signed a bill for a 5,000 mile test range to extend from Cape Kennedy Florida. The Secretary of the Army approved the relocation of the White Sands scientists and their equipment to Huntsville, Alabama.


On July 24th, the first rocket launch from Cape Kennedy was a number 8 of the two-stage rockets. It climbed to a total of 25 miles in altitude. A number 7 two-stage rocket was launched from Cape Kennedy. It set the record for the fastest moving man-made object, by traveling Mach 9.


The Jet Propulsion Laboratory of California launched the first of a series of 3,544 Loki rockets, on June 22. The program ended 4 years later, after having fired the most rounds in ten years at White Sands. On August 7, a Navy Viking 7 rocket set the new altitude record for single stage rockets by reaching 136 miles and a speed of 4,100 mph. The launch of the 26th V-2, on October 29, concluded the use of the German rockets in upper atmosphere testing.


On July 22, the first production-line Nike rocket made a successful flight.


A missile was fired from an underground launch facility in White Sands on June 5. The facility was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers. The first launch of the Army's Redstone missile, on August 20th, was conducted at Cape Kennedy by Redstone Arsenal Personnel.


On August 17th, the first firing of a Lacrosse "Group A" missile was conducted at the White Sands facility.


The White House announced, on July 29th, that President Eisenhower approved plans to launch unmanned satellites to circle the earth, as participation in the International Geophysical Year. The Russians soon made similar announcements. On November 1st, the first guided missile equipped cruiser was placed in commission at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. On November 8th, the Secretary of Defense approved the Jupiter and Thor Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) programs. President Eisenhower placed highest priority on Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) and the Thor and Jupiter IRBM programs on December 1st.

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Bellis, Mary. "A Historical Timeline of Rockets." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/timeline-of-rockets-3000-bc-to-1638-ad-1992374. Bellis, Mary. (2023, April 5). A Historical Timeline of Rockets. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/timeline-of-rockets-3000-bc-to-1638-ad-1992374 Bellis, Mary. "A Historical Timeline of Rockets." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/timeline-of-rockets-3000-bc-to-1638-ad-1992374 (accessed June 7, 2023).