Reaching for extremes

Monday, 26 August 2019
Melbourne, Australia
By Ryan Clarkson-Ledward

  • Blind ignorance
  • (No more) Waiting for Goddard

I’d be surprised if you knew who Robert Hutchings Goddard is. Few people have ever heard of, let alone remember, his name…

Born in 1882, he was a man from a different era. Yet in many ways he was unfit for his age.

Goddard was a scientist. More than that, he was a great scientist and a visionary. One who was perhaps too great.

See, like many others throughout history, Goddard was cursed with a mind ahead of its time. Too smart for the layman; too abstract for his peers. Worse though, his brilliance wasn’t just ignored, it was ridiculed.

In 1919, having spent several years working for the Smithsonian Institution, Goddard’s magnum opus was made public. A treatise simply titled ‘A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes’. One of the first genuine papers on rocket science.

It was ground-breaking in every sense of the word.

With technical theory and detailed experiments, Goddard aimed to demystify the idea of rockets. Much of which was still highly theoretical due to the limitations of equipment at the time. But at every turn he backed this theory up with hard numbers.

His most ambitious inclusion though was a thought experiment. A hypothetical suggestion of a rocket that could make it to the moon. Carrying an explosive payload, Goddard hoped to create a visible event that all of humanity could witness. And he provided the knowledge to make it happen right down to the amount of flash powder required to see the explosion through a telescope.

Society though, didn’t see it that way at all.

As I’ll tell you right after the markets…


Over the weekend, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 623.34 points, or 2.37%.

The S&P 500 closed down 75.84 points, or 2.59%.

In Europe the Euro Stoxx 50 index finished down 39.42 points, or 1.17%. Meanwhile, the FTSE 100 lost 0.47% and Germany’s DAX closed down 135.53 points, or 1.15%.

In Asian markets Japan’s Nikkei 225 is down 457.27 points, or 2.22%. China’s CSI 300 is down 1.48%.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 is down 91 points, or 1.40%.

West Texas Intermediate crude oil is US$53.56 per barrel. Brent crude is US$58.76 per barrel.

Turning to gold, the yellow metal is trading for US$1,542.34 (AU$2,292.97) per troy ounce. Silver is US$17.74 (AU$23.93) per troy ounce.

One bitcoin is worth US$10,358.26.

The Aussie dollar is worth 67.33 US cents.

Blind ignorance

Almost immediately, Goddard’s work captivated the public’s attention. Newspapers picked up and ran with the story all across the US.

Trouble was, none of them were doing so in praise of his work.

On 12 January 1920, The New York Times printed a front-page story about Goddard’s rocket. An article that tried to demystify his insights and theories.

Then, the very next day, The New York Times editorial promptly tried to tear Goddard down. They published a swift and damning critique calling into question his thinking and his character. Here are some excerpts:

Still, to be filled with uneasy wonder and express it will be safe enough, for after the rocket quits our air and and [sic] really starts on its longer journey, its flight would be neither accelerated nor maintained by the explosion of the charges it then might have left. To claim that it would be is to deny a fundamental law of dynamics, and only Dr. Einstein and his chosen dozen, so few and fit, are licensed to do that.

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.

Goddard’s work was treated as a laughing stock. His credentials called in to question and even his understanding of basic physics challenged.

A rocket, to the layperson, seemed fundamentally at odds with the laws of nature. These cynics and critics had wrongly assumed that in the vacuum of space there was no way for rockets to propel themselves. They believed that there had to be ‘air’ to push against.

Mortified and disgraced, Goddard tried to fight back. He did his best to argue and prove his point. As he retorted to the grossly mistaken New York Times:

Every vision is a joke until the first man accomplishes it; once realized, it becomes commonplace.

It was too late though for Goddard. After releasing a follow-up paper in 1924 to similar jeers, he gave up. He spent the remainder of his career and life as a recluse.

Goddard died at the age of 62 on 10 August, 1945.

24 years later, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.

The day after the launch of Apollo 11, The New York Times published a brief piece titled ‘A Correction’. It read:

Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed the findings of Isaac Newton in the 17th century and it is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere.

The Times regrets the error.

An apology nonetheless, albeit one that came far too late. Goddard was right, but the public wasn’t ready to believe him.

(No more) Waiting for Goddard

The lesson of this story dear reader is one that we should all heed. Not for the sake of Goddard, but for the sake of all those like him.

Today we may be living in a different time, but we face the same problems. There are countless ideas, theories and burgeoning technologies all around us. Some are scary, some remarkable, some practically unbelievable — but all of them are possible.

Driverless cars, genetic editing, quantum computing, nanobots, artificial intelligence, lab-grown meat, augmented reality, cybernetics…this is just some of the technology being worked on. Ideas that are as absurd to some as rockets were to the people of Goddard’s day.

Technology has never been at a more vital juncture. Change is coming and it’s coming fast.

How do I know this? Well, I’ve had the fortune to work alongside a visionary of our own here at Port Phillip Publishing.

Sam Volkering is our resident tech expert and he has an understanding of the sector that few can rival. And it is this understanding that gives me so much hope for the future. Not just in terms of what is possible, but how incredible it will truly be.

Readers of Revolutionary Tech Investor will already know this well, though. And they’ve reaped the reward from his insights and analysis.

Which is why we want to bring Sam’s ideas to even more people. We want to spread his message to as many people as possible and we’re planning to do so.

But…I can’t share the details with you today. This is just a teaser for what is to come. As our resident publisher, James Woodburn put it:

He [Sam] knowns emerging tech better than any other analyst I’ve met over the last 15 years.

And his ability to connect the dots between ground-breaking tech and the INVESTABLE ideas behind it is second to none.

In the coming days, we’ll tell you how you can be a part of it.

Ryan Clarkson-Ledward