Brain Pickings

How Rockets Really Work


The chemistry of ridable explosions.

In recounting the riveting experience of what it’s like to launch on a Space Shuttle, pioneering astronaut Sally Ride vividly recalled how “the shuttle leaps off the launch pad in a cloud of steam and a trail of fire.” But what produces this fiery magic? In this wonderful short explainer, analytical chemist Raychelle Burks sheds light on the “rideable explosions” that propel rockets into space, tracing their story from 9th-century China to NASA to modern video games.

Complement with Blast-Off, a visionary vintage children’s book celebrating equality and diversity in space exploration by envisioning a black female astronaut decades before one actually launched into the cosmos.

The Kid Should See This

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