January 13 in History

The New York Times published an editorial on this date in 1920 that took to task the rocket pioneer Robert H. Goddard for his thought that someday rockets could be used to travel to the moon (and beyond).

How would rockets possibly work in the vacuum of space? the writers wondered. After all, thanks to Isaac Newton, any schoolkid knew that actions work as a reaction, and, in the vacuum of space, where would the reaction take place? Here is some of the Times’ fussy editorial (after the jump):

[A]fter the rocket quits our air and really starts on its longer journey, its flight would be neither accelerated nor maintained by the explosion of the charges it then might have left. To claim that it would be is to deny a fundamental law of dynamics …
 
That Professor Goddard, with his “chair” in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action and 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.

Yes, the Times put Goddard’s teaching position in sarcastic quotes.

The day after Apollo 11 was launched to the moon with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on board, the Times publicly retracted its editorial of January 13, 1920. That is the photo seen at the top.

* * * *
James Joyce died on this date in 1941. Charlie Chaplin’s muse Edna Purviance died on this date in 1958; although she had retired from acting in 1927, Chaplin kept her on his payroll till the day she died. Ernie Kovacs died 55 years ago today (corrected from yesterday). “Ode to a Book Worm”:

 
Vice President Hubert Humphrey died in 1978 on this date. Carol Wayne died on this date in 1985. Ted Demme died 15 years ago today.

* * * *
Frances Sternhagen is 87 today. Rip Taylor is 81 or 82 or 83 today. He is still working, flinging confetti everywhere he travels.Edmund White is 77. Richard Moll is 74. Jay McInerney is 62. Mark O’Meara is 60. Lorrie Moore is 60. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is 56 today. Orlando Bloom is 40 today. Raif Badawi is 33 today.

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