The German rocket, the V-2 was a single-stage rocket. All of its fuel and oxygen were contained in one section of the rocket. The American rocket scientist, Robert H. Goddard, developed the multistage rocket.
A multistage rocket has two or more stages:
The booster lifts the entire rocket from the launch pad, and takes it thousands of metres into the air. Once the fuel in the booster is burned, this first stage drops off, and the second stage fires. The rocket engine in the second stage is not as powerful as the booster, since it has less to lift. After the second stage falls off, the third stage that takes over has even less to lift.
To escape the pull of the earth’s gravity, a rocket has to reach a speed of at least 40,000 kilometres per hour —seven times the speed of the V-2 rocket. Only a multistage rocket can reach such a high speed.
When World War II ended, several German scientists who had worked on Germany’s rocket programme went to the U.S to continue their work there; some experts migrated to the Soviet Union. Both countries benefited enormously from German expertise in rocket design. With the V-2 as the starting point they went on to build bigger and more powerful rockets. Some of these rockets were designed for war, some for scientific research, and some for space exploration.
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik-1, with a three-stage rocket. The Space Age had begun!