American Interplanetary Society --> ARS rockets


The world's first liquid fuel rocket was built by the American Robert Hutchings Goddard. His work was largely ignored by the American government at first. Later, he and his team moved to the White Sands Proving Grounds near Roswell, New Mexico for test firing of their rockets.

The ARS's early years (1930-1944)

  • In sharp contrast to the IAS (Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences), the American Rocket Society (ARS) started in a very different way. It began in Nino and Nella’s, an Italian restaurant/speakeasy in the West Chelsea section of New York City. There, the Pendrays, Gawain Edward (1901-1987) and his wife, Leatrice (Lee) Gregory, met with their friends to talk enthusiastically about the possibilities of space travel. The Pendrays regularly contributed to Science Wonder Stories, a science fiction magazine owned by Hugo Gernsbach, best known for starting the first science fiction publication, Amazing Stories. Ed and Lee often invited David Lasser, the editor of Science Wonder Stories, and other contributors, to story conferences at Nino and Nella’s. From there they would adjourn upstairs to the Pendray’s apartment to continue their discussions on the prospect of space flight. At some point one evening, David Lasser suggested that they organize, and the American Interplanetary Society (AIS) was born. On April 4, 1930, eleven men and one woman signed their names to a sheet of typing paper, making them the official founding members, with David Lasser as the first president. They quickly signed up other members, using Gernsbach’s publications for recruitment. One early member, listed as having joined while "at sea", must have been Midshipman Robert Heinlein; the future science fiction writer was serving at the time on board the USS Lexington. By the end of 1931, the society had 100 members. The society had already begun to publish, starting with a four-page mimeographed newsletter offering a mix of news and information in June 1930.
  • Pendray replaced Lasser as president in 1932, and the AIS Bulletin changed from a mere mimeographed version to the more formally printed Astronautics. The AIS itself was also changing. Ed and Lee Pendray took a trip to Europe, where they visited with rocket enthusiasts there. They were particularly excited to meet members of the German Rocket Society, which at the time was starting to build and test liquid propellant rockets. Ed Pendray returned to the U.S. determined to do the same, and the AIS began redefining its central purpose. From a society that existed to promote the wonders of space travel, it had become a society seriously building and testing small rockets.
  • AIS #1, the first liquid fueled rocket built by the American Interplanetary Society was static fired on November 12, 1932. It had cost the grand sum of $49.40 - $30.60 for the rocket and $18.89 for the test stand, propellant, batteries, and other supplies. Most of their supplies were donated, or improvised – the aluminum can that served as a water jacket for the motor was actually a malted milk shaker, for example. The launch site chosen was an empty farm field near Stockton, New Jersey. The rocket, was based on the German Repulsor rocket, and produced 27 kg (60 pounds) of thrust for 20-30 seconds. Unfortunately, the rocket slipped while being mounted, fell to the ground and was twisted out of alignment, ending its short career.
  • AIS#2 was built of salvaged parts from #1, along with bailing wire, razor blades, and other cast-offs. It had balsa wood fins and valves scavenged from gas light fixtures. The group received permission to launch the rocket in Great Kills Park, on Staten Island, and on 14 May 1933, they held the first public launch of a rocket, captured by crews from both Acme and Universal Newsreels. The rocket roared 250 feel (76 meters) into the air, where the oxygen tank burst and fell into lower New York Bay.
  • Due to these continuing experiments, the society decided to rename itself the American Rocket Society (ARS) on April 6, 1934. Most of the original science fiction crowd had left, to be replaced by scientists and engineers.
    The ARS continued their experiments, off an on, throughout the decade, refining and adding to their designs.
  • The fourth liquid rocket was launched on September 9, 1934 from Marine Park, Staten Island, New York. It flew 407 meters downrange, landing in the New York Bay. It had a single thrust chamber with four canted nozzles. It was originally tested on June 10, 1934, but did not fly because the fuel ports were too small.
  • H.F. Pierce of the American rocket Society launched a liquid fueled rocket to about 250 feet (76 meters) on May 9, 1937. The launch took place from Old Ferris Point, the Bronx, New York.
  • On December 10, 1938, the American Rocket Society tested a 90 pound (41 kg) thrust regeneratively cooled liquid rocket motor designed by James H. Wyld.
  • Several young engineers, including James Wyld, Franklin Pierce, John Shesta, and Lovell Lawrence, had contributed many refinements to the motors and designs. On December 18, 1941, they formed Reaction Motors, Incorporated, the first American company founded to produce liquid-propellant rockets, based on the work the group had done with the ARS. They had formed the company in order to do business with the U.S. government, which would not contract with individuals.

American Interplanetary Rocket Society Rockets:
Veh. Launch Date Alt. DR Launch Site Status
    (m) (m)    
1 11-12-1932     Stockton, NJ damaged in static test, not flown
2 05-14-1933 76   Great Kills, NY LOX tank exploded
4A 06-10-1934     Marine Park, NY did not fly
4B 09-09-1934   407 Marine Park, NY landed in New York Bay
5? 05-09-1937 76   Old Ferris Point, NY  

Source: Gatland (1989).

The ARS's later years (1944 - 1963):

  • During World War II the organization continued to publish Astronautics and received increasing numbers of requests for information on rockets. A realization of the need for professional information led to a redefinition of the ARS into a technical society to meet the professional needs of a growing number of scientists and engineers. The first step was to establish an office, and hire staff. The first permanent employees was Agnes “Billie” Slade, a former secretary of Ed Pendray’s whom he convinced to man the ARS office for two days a week. At this point there were exactly 237 dues-paying members. In 1947 the society passed new by-laws that included official grades of membership, added four regional sections, established subcommittees for technical specialties (reaction motor development, fuels and combustion; instrumentations and communications; and aerodynamics and space problems), and named three national awards. Astronautics had become The Journal of the American Rocket Society.
  • In 1953,the ARS hired James Harford as its first Executive Director, who oversaw, and was a key element of, years of spectacular growth for the Society. Within two years, he had increased the Corporate members from 10 to 61, and the membership to over 4,000 – a number that would reach 21,000 by the end of the 1950s. The five original sections grew to 26 at this time, and the ARS held or participated in eight major meetings in 1955 alone. Harford remained as Executive Director of the ARS and later AIAA until 1988.
  • Because of World War II and the early challenges of rocket development during the Cold War, they ARS had largely ignored the issue of spaceflight for close to a decade. This changed in 1950, when the British Interplanetary Society (BIS) invited the ARS to participate in the Second International Congress of Astronautical Societies, the predecessor of the IAF. This meeting’s purpose was to publicize the fact that spaceflight would shortly become reality. Several ARS members enthusiastically participated, and serious discussions about space flight with the ARS led to the creation of an Ad Hoc Space Flight Committee. The subject was a controversial one; more conservative ARS members did not want to focus heavily on space flight; others felt the ARS was not doing enough. These members ultimately formed the American Astronautical Society (AAS) to promote space flight on a national level. This led the ARS to reevaluate its position, and the society released a proposal justifying a study of the potential utility of a satellite, entitled On the Utility of an Artificial Unmanned Earth Satellite. This report was one of the most persuasive documents that led to President Eisenhower’s decision to launch small scientific satellites as part of the research for the International Geophysical Year, 1957-58.
  • The pinnacle of the ARS participation in going into space, however, was the Space Flight Report to the Nation in 1961. This amazing conference, developed over a year under the direction of Dr. Jerry Grey of Princeton University, offered the opportunity to everyone, engineers and the general public, a glimpse of the opportunities of space. Two hundred and fifty papers in 50 sessions, along with plenary speakers and technical panels, took place over five days in at the New York City Coliseum. Speakers included the leading names in space flight, and Vice President Lyndon Johnson. Over 12,000 people attended.
  • On February 1, 1963, it was incorporated into the Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Ref.: #17, #256 - update: 06.10.11 Home