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Home > Early Days > Timeline of Rocket History > Rockets in Ancient Times (100 B.C. to 17th Century)

Rockets in Ancient Times (100 B.C. to 17th Century)

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DAEDALUS AND ICARUS
Ever since humans first saw birds soar through the sky, they have wanted to fly. The ancient Greeks and Romans pictured many of their gods with winged feet, and imagined mythological winged animals. According to the legend of Daedalus and Icarus, the father and son escaped prison by attaching wings made of wax and feathers to their bodies. Unfortunately, Icarus flew too near the sun, and the heat caused the wax and feathers to melt. The feathers fell off, and Icarus plummeted to the sea. Daedalus landed safely in Sicily.
HERO'S ENGINE
Legendary characters used the power of mythology to fly through the heavens. About 100 BC a Greek inventor known as Hero of Alexandria came up with a new invention that depended more on the mechanical interaction of heat and water. He invented a rocket-like device called an aeolipile. It used steam for propulsion. Hero mounted a sphere on top of a water kettle. A fire below the kettle turned the water into steam, and the gas traveled through the pipes to the sphere. Two L-shaped tubes on opposite sides of the sphere allowed the gas to escape, and in doing so gave a thrust to the sphere that caused it to rotate.
CHINESE SOLDIER LAUNCHES FIRE ARROW
They sounded more like fireworks than rockets but the Chinese used rockets in battle.
CHINESE REPULSE MONGOLS
In 1232 AD the Chinese used rockets against the Mongols who were besieging the city of Kai-fung-fu. An arrow with a tube of gunpowder produced an arrow of flying fire.
CHINESE LETTER CHARACTERS
Early Chinese rockets were used in warfare and celebrations. In fact, the origin of the rocket is shown simply in these Chinese characters. They stand for both "rocket" and "fire arrow."
WAN HOO AND HIS SPACE VEHICLE
According to one ancient legend, a Chinese official named Wan-Hoo attempted a flight to the moon using a large wicker chair to which were fastened 47 large rockets. Forty seven assistants, each armed with torches, rushed forward to light the fuses. In a moment there was a tremendous roar accompanied by billowing clouds of smoke. When the smoke cleared, the flying chair and Wan-Hu were gone.
TORPEDO ROCKET
All through the 13th to the 15th Century there were reports of many rocket experiments. For example, Joanes de Fontana of Italy designed a surface-running rocket-powered torpedo for setting enemy ships on fire.
DRAWING OF STAGED ROCKET
In 1650, a Polish artillery expert, Kazimierz Siemienowicz, published a series of drawings for a staged rocket.

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