The Story of Bobby

Bobby was not a particularly strong nor well-liked boy. He often had problems with his stomach, and regularly suffered from colds and bronchitis. He didn’t do very well in school—he had fallen behind two whole grades, in fact, and his schoolmates were happy to tease him about it.

Having very few friends, Bobby spent most of his time at the public library, reading books about the physical sciences, as well as science fiction. He was particularly fascinated by H. G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds,” and Isaac Newton’s magnum opus, “Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica.”

One day, when he was 17 years old, Bobby climbed a cherry tree to cut off some dead limbs. Whilst up there in the tree, he looked toward the sky and started daydreaming. “How wonderful it would be to build something that had even the possibility of ascending to Mars,” he thought to himself. He sat there for what must have been at least half an hour, and finally climbed down. Although he was no longer looking at the sky from upthere, he couldn’t quite shake the idea he’d had.

Bobby’s health had started to clear up, and his study at the library had paid off. As he went through high school and eventually university, he did much better in class. He even impressed the head of the physics department at the university, and became his assistant. He did quite well. He published several peer-reviewed papers, and patented some of his findings. He even enjoyed some public acclaim.

Still, though, he was ridiculed. His ambitions were too lofty. Too unrealistic. Too ridiculous. The prestigious New York Times opined that his ideas were “a strain on credulity,” that “he seemed to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools,” and that, ultimately, his work was an utter waste of time.

Even in his later years, Bobby had to seclude himself to avoid continued criticism from the public, and because he worried that he didn’t have long to live. His bad health had returned. Sure enough: a few years later, Bobby was diagnosed with throat cancer, and died shortly after.

Bobby’s full name was Robert H. Goddard. He invented the liquid-fueled rocket, and (together with Konstantin Tsiolkovsky) is the father of modern rocketry and spaceflight.

Bobby dreamt of building rockets that could travel into the blackness of space, and we laughed. Yet here we are, sending people and machines to other worlds, thanks to him.

It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.

— Robert H. Goddard