In 1920, the New York Times so ridiculed Goddard in a vicious attack that he (to the detriment of American rocketry) became secretive and shied away from publicity for the rest of his life. The Times not only mocked the idea of a rocket functioning in a vacuum, it questioned Goddard's professionalism, education, and integrity.
The subsequent half-assed correction which ran the day after Apollo 11 launched gives the impression that rocket function in a vacuum had been "definitely established" long after the editorial ran. It also failed to address 90% of the attack (particularly the personal attacks), instead concentrating on one paragraph of what was an extremely long editorial. (I have only posted a bit of the original verbose, wandering piece.)
As someone else remarked, "It is not known if the Times regretted the pain its actions inflicted on the American rocket pioneer."
January 13, 1920
That Professor Goddard, with his "chair" in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react--to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.
But there are such things as intentional mistakes or oversights, and, as it happens, Jules Verne, who also knew a thing or two in assorted sciences--and had, besides, a surprising amount of prophetic power--deliberately seems to make the same mistake that Professor Goddard seems to make. For the Frenchman, having got his travelers to or toward the moon into the desperate fix riding a tiny satellite of the satellite, saved them from circling it forever by means of an explosion, rocket fashion, where an explosion would not have had in the slightest degree the effect of releasing them from their dreadful slavery. That was one of Verne's few scientific slips, or else it was a deliberate step aside from scientific accuracy, pardonable enough of him in a romancer, but its like is not so easily explained when made by a savant who isn't writing a novel of adventure.
All the same, if Professor Goddard's rocket attains a sufficient speed before it passes out of our atmosphere--which is a thinkable possibility--and if its aiming takes into account all of the many deflective forces that will affect its flight, it may reach the moon. That the rocket could carry enough explosive to make on impact a flash large and bright enough to be seen from earth by the biggest of our telescope--that will be believed when it is done.
July 17, 1969
A Correction. On Jan. 13, 1920, "Topics of the Times," and editorial-page feature of the The New York Times, dismissed the notion that a rocket could function in vacuum and commented on the ideas of Robert H. Goddard, the rocket pioneer, as follows:
"That Professor Goddard, with his 'chair' in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react - to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools."
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.