“It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.” Dr. Robert H. Goddard
The other day, my wife was working through some writing exercises with our home schooled son when she ran across a sentence that intrigued her. ”In 1914, Robert Goddard, called the “moon man,” was ridiculed by newspapers because he proposed that man could travel to the moon. ” Hmmm…
That one sentence propelled us to look into the “moon man.” It seems that Robert Goddard (1882-1945) is now recognized, after his death, as the American founding father of modern rocket propulsion. He was an American professor, physicist, and inventor who is credited for creating, building, testing and launching the world’s 1st liquid-fueled rocket. In essence, he was integral in ushering in the Space Age but didn’t live to see the age of space flight. It seems he was a man with a vision before his time.
As a little boy in 1899, climbing an old cherry tree, Goddard imagined how wonderful it would be to make a device to travel to Mars. He later wrote in his autobiography, “After I descended the tree from when I ascended, for existence at last seemed very purposive.” On that day, Goddard found his purpose in life and meaning for his existence. In 1907, while a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Goddard experimented on a rocket powered by gunpowder and thus began his lifetime of dedicated work in rocketry.
Goddard was awarded two U.S. patents by 1914 and by 1916 Goddard published his classic document, “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes,” where he detailed his development of the mathematical theories of rocket propulsion. Running low on funding, Goddard resorted to sponsored research and the Smithsonian granted him $5000 in 1917 and modest contributions from the Gugenheim foundation.
By 1920, Goddard’s discoveries were virtually ignored by the U.S. government and he received very little public support for his research. The press and public ridiculed, mocked and insulted him, pushing him into a life of secluded research, only sharing his findings and ideas with private groups. Yet, he held firm to his convictions of what he knew to be true.
“Every vision is a joke until the first man accomplishes it; once realized, it becomes commonplace.” - Robert Goddard in response to questions from reporters.
In March 1926, contrary to the stinging criticisms, Goddard successfully launched the world’s first liquid-fuelled rocket which ushered in the “Space Age” which would forever change our world.
On July 17, 1969 (the day after the launch of Apollo 11), forty-nine years after its editorial mocking Goddard, The New York Times published a short item under the headline “A Correction.” The three-paragraph statement summarized its 1920 editorial criticizing Goddard’s rocketry research, and concluded:
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.
Years after his death (August 10, 1945), at the beginning of the race to the moon, Goddard was recognized as the founding father of modern rocketry.
Goddard held 214 patents, and over 100+ of these were awarded post-mortem. He now has the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, a high school, a postal stamp and a street named after him, commemorating his vision and his legacy.
What an incredible story of personal leadership, a man with a dream, and what it takes to bring a vision to reality. I can’t help but believe that if we could only teach these leadership lessons in the general public today we would see countless new discoveries and personal dreams realized. There are 5 distinct leadership principles that I believe we can study from Robert Goddard’s life:
1) To live a fulfilled life, one must discover his purpose. Without Goddard’s “cherry tree dream,” who knows where our world would be today. What is your “cherry tree dream?”
2) Any great idea will take time to develop and often times will require us to dedicate significant “un-busyness” to fully develop that dream. Goddard used “leaves of absence” from Worcester Polytechnic Institute to focus on his research. Find ways to lessen your daily busyness so you can focus on developing your life purpose.
3) Criticism, ridicule and mockery will happen, especially when your idea challenges the status quo. However, if you have discovered and developed your purpose, use the negative push back as a way to strengthen your resolve to follow through on your ideas to the end.
4) Be very selective who you share your dreams with as they may become your biggest critics. Once the goal or dream is publicly expressed, the enemies of that idea will be revealed. The Bible says not to cast our pearls before swine. Unfortunately, we don’t always know who will become our judges, critics and naysayers so use caution!
5) Your efforts may not be fully realized or recognized until after you’re dead. Do it anyway! The ripple effect of your dreams and leadership will be part of your legacy.
LIFE leadership is one path to teach common men and women of today how to walk through a leadership journey. We are all called to leadership yet many of us are not trained how to lead and how to push through the challenges. Via the LIFE Leadership business, the idea that leadership principles can be brought to the masses is on the table. We are taking the criticisms and ridicule, yet there are masses of people around the globe that are catching on to the vision. Men and women are identifying and discovering their purpose, rolling up their shirt sleeves and getting to work to develop their dreams and dedicate their lives to move their vision and goals forward. Join the LIFE Leadership movement! God speed on your journey!