Astronomy and Space

A Correction 49 Years in the Making


The day after Apollo 11 blasted off for the moon, the New York Times issued a correction to a 1920 editorial that declared rocket flight through space impossible.

On July 17, 1969, as Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were en route to the Moon, a curious item appeared in the pages of the New York Times:

JULY 17, 1969: On Jan. 13, 1920, Topics of The Times, an editorial-page feature of The New York Times, dismissed the notion that a rocket could function in a vacuum and commented on the ideas of Robert H. Goddard, the rocket pioneer, as follows.

“That Professor Goddard, with his ‘chair’ in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to 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.” 

Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed the findings of Isaac Newton in the 17th century, and it is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. The Times regrets the error.”

NYTMoonCorrection

The correction in the July 17, 1969, issue of the New York Times.

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