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Talk Like a Rocket Engineer
September 22, 2010


Words to Know

apogee - The farthest distance from Earth of a rocket's flight path while in orbit

avionics - The electrical "brain" of the rocket. Avionics are electrical systems that control the rocket during flight.

center of gravity - The average location of the weight of the rocket

center of pressure - The average location of the aerodynamic forces (or pressure) on the rocket

combustion chamber - A cavity inside a rocket where propellants burn

expendable launch vehicle - A vehicle made up of one or more rocket stages. After each stage has burned its complement of propellant, it is jettisoned from the vehicle and left to crash back to Earth.

flight profile - A graphical step-by-step depiction of a maneuver or phase of flight

jettison - To discard hardware no longer needed

leading edge - The front of the wing

Launch Control Center - The location from which NASA controls the launch of the space shuttle or other vehicles

liftoff - The instant when a rocket begins flight

main engine - The part of the rocket that provides the thrust to lift the vehicle off the ground

multistage rocket - A rocket that uses two or more sets of combustion chambers and propellant tanks. These sets, called stages, may be stacked end to end or attached side by side. When a stage runs out of propellant, the rocket discards it. Discarding the empty stage makes the rocket lighter and allows the remaining stages to accelerate it more strongly.

Newton's Laws of Motion - Newton stated three important scientific principles that govern the motion of all objects, whether on Earth or in space.

  1. Objects at rest will stay at rest and objects in motion will stay in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
  2. Force is equal to mass times acceleration.
  3. For every action, there is always an opposite and equal reaction.

orbital rocket - A rocket capable of placing an object into orbit

orbit - The path of an object moving around a second object or point under the influence of gravity

payload - Anything that a flight vehicle carries beyond what is required for its operation during flight

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A scientist explains a diagram drawn on a blackboard
John Houbolt explains the weight-saving advantage of the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous for the Apollo program.
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Page Last Updated: February 25th, 2014
Page Editor: NASA Administrator