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Rockets

You hear a rumble and a roar. A blast of fire shoots


out of a big rocket. The rocket heads up into the air.
Maybe the rocket is carrying a satellite into orbit
around Earth. Maybe the rocket is carrying a space
probe to another planet!

Only a big rocket can make it into outer space. No


other machine is as powerful as a rocket.

WHAT DO ROCKETS LOOK LIKE?


A rocket looks like a long tube. Most rockets have fins on
the back end to help them fly straight.

Rockets that carry fireworks can be short, only a few


inches long. They are usually made of cardboard.

Rockets that go into space are huge. They are made


mostly of metal.

WHAT MAKES ROCKETS GO?


Rockets burn fuel. Many different chemicals can be used
as rocket fuel. The burning fuel makes hot gases. The
gases blow out of the bottom end of the rocket. The hot
gases shooting downward make the rocket go upward.

You can see how a rocket moves by blowing up a balloon.


Hold the end of the balloon tightly so the air cannot get
out. Then let go. The air rushes out of the opening in the
balloon. The air rushing out makes the balloon fly around.

A rocket, like a balloon, has a small opening. The opening


in a rocket is called a nozzle. Hot gases blasting out of the
nozzle make the rocket go.
HOW DO WE USE ROCKETS?
People use rockets to carry things through air and space.
Different kinds of rockets carry different things.

Sounding rockets carry instruments to measure air


pollution, rays from space, and weather. Lifesaving
rockets carry ropes to ships stranded offshore. Distress
rockets signal for help.

The most powerful rockets carry satellites and spacecraft


into space. Many spacecraft use smaller rockets called
thrusters to move around once they’re in space.

Rockets can also be used as weapons. The rocket weapons


are called missiles. Most of the rockets made are missiles.

WHAT IS A MISSILE?
Missiles are rockets that carry bombs. The British used
rockets carrying bombs against the United States in the
War of 1812. The national anthem of the United States
even has a line about the rockets: “And the rockets’ red
glare ….”

Guided missiles have steering systems that guide them to


destroy their targets. The smallest guided missiles can be
carried by soldiers. The biggest guided missiles are huge.
They can carry nuclear bombs around the world.

LAUNCHING A MISSILE
Missiles can be launched (fired into the air) from the
ground, from airplanes, from ships, and even from
submarines. Missiles can also be launched from bombproof
underground tubes called silos.
Soldiers on battlefields launch small missiles out of tubes
that they can carry on their shoulders. Special trucks carry
ground-to-air missiles that aim at airplanes. Special racks
underneath fighter planes carry air-to-air missiles.

HOW DO YOU LAUNCH A SPACE ROCKET?


Big rockets are launched from launch pads. A rocket
stands on the pad next to a tall tower. The towers have
elevators to take workers up and down. Gigantic tractors
called crawler transporters bring big rockets or the space
shuttle to a launch pad.

Controllers count the seconds before launch as they finish


checking everything. “Five, four, three, two, one ….”
Bridges that connect the tower to the rocket swing away.
“Ignition!” The rocket engines fire. The spacecraft lifts off
into the sky.

Firing one rocket does not always provide enough power


to send a spacecraft far from Earth. The most powerful
rockets often have different stages. Stages are separate
rockets stacked on top of each other.

HOW DO ROCKET STAGES WORK?


Rockets headed for space must go really fast, about
25,000 miles per hour (40,000 kilometers per hour). They
must go fast enough to overcome Earth’s gravity. Gravity
is the force that pulls you back down to the ground when
you jump up. Using more than one rocket stage is the
best way to go really fast.

The bottom stage fires, uses up its fuel, and drops off.
Then the next stage fires. Each stage takes the spacecraft
faster and higher. The huge Saturn V rocket that sent
Apollo astronauts to the Moon had four stages.
WHO INVENTED ROCKETS?
Chinese people probably invented rockets more than
1,000 years ago. By the end of the 13th century people in
Asia and Europe also knew how to make rockets.

American physicist Robert H. Goddard researched new,


more powerful kinds of rockets during the early 1900s. A
German inventor named Wernher von Braun helped
Germany make missiles during World War II (1939-1945).
After World War II, von Braun helped the Americans make
rockets. The Soviet Union also made rockets. Soviet
scientists launched the first satellite into space in 1957.

The United States, Russia, and other countries made


bigger and more powerful rockets. Rockets have launched
spacecraft to the Moon and most of the planets.

Space engineers are working on better rockets. They are


testing rockets that use nuclear power. They are trying to
build rockets that get their power from beams of light.
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