Rockets are vehicles that can be used for travelling in Space. They are tube-shaped and use fuel to produce a super-strong blast of hot gas that pushes them forward or upwards. Rockets can move really, really fast through the air and into outer Space – whoosh! But have you ever thought about how they stop? My friend’s little boy has and he wants to know how do rockets land? So, let’s find out…!
Scientists and engineers have been working on rockets for hundreds of years – although the first rockets didn’t look like the ones that are designed and made today. It wasn’t until about 150 years ago that people started to think about using rockets to travel away from Earth, into Space.
During the Second World War, the Germans developed a rocket called the V2 missile, which could fly high enough to get into Space. But it wasn’t until 1957 (60 years ago) that the Russians used rocket technology to send the first satellite into Space. The satellite was called Sputnik 1 and it travelled around the Earth for three months. Russia was also the first country to send a person into Space – the astronaut Yuri Gagarin travelled into Space in 1961 and made a journey around the Earth. A few years later, the Russians sent a spacecraft called Luna 2 to the Moon! But Luna 2 crash landed! So, scientists had to work out a way to get spacecraft to land gently if they were going to be used to send people to the Moon.
Apollo 11 was the first spacecraft to land people on the Moon. Here’s a picture of what it looked like and how it worked. It was launched by rocket from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, USA in 1969. It carried three astronauts who used small rocket engines (called ‘thrust engines’) to land the craft gently on a part of the Moon called the Sea of Tranquility. The thrust engines worked against the force of gravity pulling the spacecraft down to the Moon’s surface so that the craft landed more slowly. They used more rockets to get off the Moon and fly back to Earth before landing (using a parachute) in the sea.
SpaceX is a new programme for Space exploration, which aims to send people to live on other planets! The scientists and engineers who work there are trying to design rockets that can land very carefully in the exact spot they want them to. Last year, they got a rocket to land on a ship in the sea! You can see the flames blasting out from the thrust engines as they slow the rocket down for landing.