The “Moon Man” – Robert Goddard and Thoughts on Leadership

“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…

To quote best-selling author and CEO of LIFE Leadership, Chris Brady, “There’s a story behind this.”

That one sentence propelled us to look into the “moon man.”  It seems that goddard rocketRobert 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, apollo 11The 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.

goodard image quote

Leadership Lessons

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!


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6 Responses to The “Moon Man” – Robert Goddard and Thoughts on Leadership

  1. Ron Wollner says:

    Matt, great story/article. Many lessons to learn and grow from in this outstanding image of strength, determination, endurance, soft heart/tough skin, fortitude and belief in oneself and the dreams, ambitions, goals that you set for yourself.
    In today’s world it is so easy to lack focus, turn away and reject anything that does not provide instant success and/or conform to what is acceptable(as defined by people/sources without proven success).
    Just think of all the great ideas that have not made their way to fruition because of lack of belief/dedication and hard work. Thanks to you and your family for sharing this.
    Ron Wollner

  2. Julie Wingate says:

    Matt what a great post.Our dreams will lead to our future. Thanks for the reminder of why we go against all opposition; to leave a worthwhile legacy. God bless, Julie Wingate

  3. Larry Wieberdink says:

    Thanks for the posting Matt!!

    I have always been a science fiction reader and especially a fan of those who are able to bring that vision into the realm of fact. Robert Goddard has always been a hero of mine. He was an unrecognized man of vision and action who did not require recognition to spring-board humanity into a new realm of reality. I agree so much with Ron’s perceptive comments.

    Thanks again Matt for this great example of Leadership,

    Larry Wieberdink

  4. Matt Mielke says:

    Matt, another great post and example of modern day leadership! Goddard is a man of vision, courage, persistence and focus….characteristics we can strive for in our own leadership journey. Proud of you, Matt!

  5. Paul Abler says:

    Hey Matt, I really like this post. Here is a post I wrote that relates to moving toward your vision.

    A Great Start?

    You have to start to be great, you do not have to be great to start. This is a success principle for life and it is certainly true for an active life. Every champion started out as a rookie, every marathoner began with their first jog. When I taught new skills to other physical therapists, they were advised at the end of the seminar to use their new skills right away when they returned to the clinic. If they waited to be great with the skill before they used it, well they would never develop great skills. I am by nature both a perfectionist and a procrastinator. I would feel I needed to be great before I began, crazy but true! One reason for this was the avoidance of looking bad or somehow less in the eyes of others. Well today I am going to go ahead and walk/jog slowly on the treadmill and reach out and make that next contact for my business, and try not to care if others think I am not yet great! The journey of one thousand miles begins with the first, imperfect, step.

    Paul Abler PT Delafield WI

  6. Miriam says:

    Awesome post, Matt! It sure makes it easier to have critics when you have of 1,000s of encouragers all fighting for the same vision! Appreciate your constant charge towards excellence=

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