The path to space runs through Worcester.
That’s where Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-fueled rocket, giving rise to the space age. It’s where one local company made the communication headset worn by the first men on the moon, another produced the landing struts for the space shuttle, and yet another manufactured the legs of the Lunar Module.
A full-size model of that space shuttle landing strut, a working backup of the communication headset, and a high-pressure suit also made in Worcester are among the holdings of the Worcester Historical Museum, one of many such places scattered around New England that are unexpected markers of the space age.
“Those of us who grew up watching space launches have nostalgia for it,” said William Wallace, the museum’s executive director. And “unless you’re claustrophobic,” he said, “everyone is thinking, ‘That could be me’ ” out there in space.
Goddard succeeded at launching a liquid-fueled rocked on March 16, 1926, on what was then his Aunt Effie’s farm in Auburn, now the Pakachoag Golf Course; a 4-foot granite obelisk beside the first tee marks the spot.
The gawky metal tower Goddard used is on public exhibit in the library named for him a few miles away at Clark University, where he taught physics. A permanent display at Clark includes the nozzles, cones, and steering control fins used on later Goddard rockets, some cut from coffee cans.
There are other space-related objects in some unlikely New England places. The Lawrence L. Lee Scouting Museum in Manchester, N.H., has a flag carried to the moon by first astronaut and New Hampshire native Alan Shepard. The earth station that broadcast the first-ever satellite television transmission, in 1962, is in Andover, Maine; its 161-foot dome is gone, but there’s still a field of satellite receivers there.
Draper, the Cambridge research-and-development company that developed some of the navigation instruments needed for astronauts to land on the moon, will mount a display including a space flight simulator in the lobby of its Kendall Square headquarters next summer to mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.
The Billion-channel ExtraTerrestrial Assay, the earth’s largest radio detector — built to listen for signs of other intelligent life in the universe — sits atop a hill in Harvard; it can monitor 252 million channels simultaneously, and while it’s off limits to the public, you can see the 84-foot radio telescope from Littleton County Road.
You can also see deep into space itself, through telescopes at open houses offered by college and university astronomy departments all over town, or at one of the two observatories on Nantucket dedicated to Maria Mitchell, the first American woman to discover a comet through a telescope, first woman professor of astronomy at a US university, and first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Jon Marcus can be reached at email@example.com.