Way back in the 1920’s, in Germany, Russia and even in the U.S. there were various groups of regular civilians who gathered for the purpose of building rockets. They would share stories and news of each others exploits, build small, experimental rockets, and even publish scientific papers. They ended up advancing the capability of rockets quite a bit. They designed, built and tested liquid-fueled rockets of increasing thrust, that reached higher and higher altitudes. These were students and amateurs, mostly. In Germany and Russia, they eventually gained small amounts of funding from their respective governments.
They advanced the state of the art. And some of them went on to head up government labs and efforts both during and after WWII. These individuals ultimately helped us escape the bonds of Earth and make it to the Moon and beyond (with accomplishments like the V-2 liquid-fueled rocket, the precursor to our expendable rockets like Redstone, Atlas and Titan).
(see: http://www.army.mil/article/46989/German_Rocket_Site_Unearths_Memories/ )
Now here we are in 2012. Our Space Shuttle program is done, and we are hoping and waiting for some corporate, for profit efforts to become available. In other countries, especially China, governments are heavily funding national programs. In the US, we have placed our hopes on that elusive thing called ‘private enterprise’ . There are lots of beautiful photos and mockups and such. But whether anything actually gets flown is another matter.
Some college-level rocketry organizations, modeled after some of the early German orgs, might stimulate interest on the part of students to not only learn about rocketry in general, but also to perhaps build and test some of their own models. This could help us advance the state of the art here in the US, and keep up with the rest of the world when it comes to getting objects and people sent into space. One example is here: http://aero.cpss.calpoly.edu/
Might there not be a way to join a loose confederation of individuals, to plan, fund and build small-scale efforts, to probe other ways to escape Earth’s gravity and so forth? It seems important, after a century of hard-won gains in the field of rocketry design and practice, to keep up our momentum. The U.S. has had to play catch-up more than once, as other countries showed foresight and persistence. We are a large and relatively prosperous country. We should be able to do better.
We have accomplished much in the last 100 years, going from the fantastical stories of Hugo Gernsback to the reality of rovers snapping pictures of Martian rocks. We can justly be proud. But we should not stop here. No, we are just on the cusp of a breakout. A breakout into livable habitations on the Moon, on Mars and the Asteroids and even in orbital facilities cycling between Mars, the Moon, and Earth Orbit. We should not stop now. A pause, perhaps, to regroup and re-focus some efforts. And then the next leap forward. Our youth can lead the way for us. Thanks for reading.