The first rockets

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Everything on Earth – including us – is held down by the force of gravity. Without gravity, we would all float off into space. It is said that Isaac Newton discovered gravity when an apple fell on his head.

In order to reach space, we use a rocket-powered launcher to overcome the pull of Earth’s gravity. Other ideas have been put forward from time to time. In 1865, the science fiction writer Jules Verne suggested using a powerful gun to send people to the Moon. More recently, scientists have been studying the use of powerful magnets to send a spacecraft into orbit.

Rockets have been around a long time. They were invented in China, more than 800 years ago. The first rockets were very simple – a cardboard tube packed with gunpowder and attached to a guide stick - similar to the fireworks we use today.

In 1232, the Chinese used these 'fire arrows' to defeat the invading Mongol army. The knowledge of how to make rockets soon spread to the Middle East and Europe, where they were also used as weapons. Later, they also became popular for spectacular firework displays.

Last modified 12 October 2011