In 1920, rocket scientist Robert Goddard wrote up an article postulating how we could use rocket fuel to launch a ship into space — perhaps even all the way to the moon. His ideas did not meet with a warm reception in the media, where he was roundly mocked. 49 years later, Apollo 11 took-off to the moon, triggering The New York Times' to print the greatest newspaper correction ever to run.


This correction has everything: scare quotes, an elaborately roundabout slam on rocket scientist Goddard's high school education, and, notably, no reference at all to Apollo 11's launch to the moon that had occurred just the day before, spurring the correction in the first place. The correction, printed in the July 17, 1969 edition of The Times reads:

A Correction: 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 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 a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. The Times regrets the error.


Thanks to commenter mwhite66 who brought the correction to our attention, noting in response to this post on the responses Goddard's ideas received more than 80 years ago that: "The New York Times retracted their 1920 editorial stating that rockets couldn't work in a vacuum because there was nothing to push against. In July 1969, when Apollo 11 flew to the moon."


Top image: Apollo 11, NASA