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The chemistry of rocketry

For a long time man has aspired to reach the stars. Rockets have taken man to the moon and back. Today one of the most spectacular sights to see is the billows of white clouds that accompany a shuttle lift off. It's time to learn about the basic chemistry behind rocketry.

The first rockets

The first rockets can be traced back to the 13th century. The invention of gun powder was the first stimulant for early rocket science. But it was only in the 20th century that Rockets found industrial applications.

The first rockets were fireworks that were used for military and recreational purposes. Rockets have been used for a number of purposes including launching satellites, used to propel ejection seats of fighter planes and even taking man to the moon. The chemistry behind the rockets of old is now being used in the space shuttles of today.

The first rockets were fireworks that were used for military and recreational purposes.

What are space shuttles?

In the early days of space discovery, man used huge rockets to take him into space. These rockets were very powerful, but expensive at the same time. As technology improved man invented the space shuttle as a more cost effective way to take him to space. Space shuttles have been used since 1982 to take man to space.

Space shuttles are made up of three main components. These are the fuel tank, two solid booster rockets, and an orbiter or shuttle. The fuel tank contains the fuel necessary to propel the shuttle into space. This fuel is a mixture of liquid hydrogen and oxygen.

All that fuel doesn't fit in the shuttle, hence the need for this extra tank! The slender white booster rockets help provide that additional thrust that is necessary for the shuttle to take off. During take off both the shuttle's engines and that of the booster rockets are used.

How do rockets and shuttles work?

Rocketry works on the basis of Newton's third law of motion. A shuttle expels it mass backwards like a fluid jet of fire. This propels the rocket up into the air at high speed.

The booster rockets provide 71 percent of the force that is needed for the shuttle to take off into space. They are called solid rocket boosters because of the solid propellant that are used in them. The chemical mixture that is used in the booster rocket is made up of several chemicals. These include a fuel, oxidizers, catalyst, binder and curing agent.

Of this, the oxidizer is the most in quantity and is usually ammonium perchlorate. The next important ingredient is the fuel made from atomized aluminium. When this solid aluminium powder and ammonium perchlorate powder provides a fine white dust of alumina. In addition to this are superheated gasses. When these gasses and powder mix they produce billows of white clouds that you see during a shuttle's lift off. This is the sight that most of us remember when we watch the shuttle taking off on television. Now you can tell your friends why this happens!



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