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Date: 2015
Publisher: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.
Document Type: Topic overview; Brief article
Length: 299 words
Lexile Measure: 890L

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Rockets are devices that produce the force, or push, needed to move an object forward. Rockets are used to launch spacecraft. They are also used to shoot missiles and fireworks.

Rocket fuel can be liquid or solid. When the fuel burns, it gives off gas that pushes the rocket forward.
Rocket fuel can be liquid or solid. When the fuel burns, it gives off gas that pushes the rocket forward.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

How Rockets Work

Rockets carry fuel that is burned inside a chamber. The fuel burns when it is mixed with oxygen gas and ignited, or set on fire. As the fuel burns, it gives off hot gas that shoots out from an opening at the back of the chamber. The force of the gas moving backward pushes the rocket forward. This action is called jet propulsion.

The engines of a jet airplane also use jet propulsion. But unlike a jet engine, rockets carry their own oxygen supply. This makes rockets valuable in outer space, where there is no oxygen.

Rocket fuel can be liquid or solid. The U.S. space shuttle uses both liquid and solid-fuel rockets. Two solid-fuel booster rockets launch the shuttle into space. Three liquid-fuel rocket engines allow it to move in and out of orbit.


The Chinese probably invented rockets in the 1200s. They made rockets by filling bamboo cases with gunpowder. The Chinese used rockets during religious ceremonies and as weapons. In the 1700s rockets were improved by making them with metal. Rockets were used as weapons in many wars of the 1800s and 1900s, especially World War II (1939–45).

In the late 1800s a Russian scientist named Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky got the idea that rockets could be used to travel into space. He did not build any rockets, but his ideas about them were useful. Robert H. Goddard, a U.S. engineer, built the first liquid-fuel rocket in 1925. In October 1957 the Soviet Union used a rocket to launch the first spacecraft, Sputnik 1, into orbit around Earth.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|MUBBTH162539632