We meet even to-day occasional survivals of rites from the ancient sun worship that are consciously practiced. Such is the sun dance of the Arapahoe Indians, with its mystic wheel - that aged symbol common to the religions of all primitive peoples; as shown, for example, by the winged wheel of Ezekiel, concerning which the Hebrew Scriptures tell-But it is of more curious interest to note certain instances in which such survivals of sun worship are unconsciously practiced. An illustration is afforded by some present-day usages in the Christian church.
. Both Greeks and Romans adopted the Persian Mithra for their own, and also worshiped Ahura-Mazdao, whose chief symbol was the sun. Along with such worship went various ritual observances that long afterward powerfully influenced the Christian church in its ceremonial forms. It is due to such influence that we still build our churches with a due regard to their orientation, and that the congregation faces toward the east during recital of the creed.
Now, concerning the origin of rockets, we have only an impenetrable obscurity, so far as historical records go. There is, nevertheless, a tradition which holds some degree of interest, although it is quite incapable of proof. According to this, the rocket was originally devised by priests, ages ago, who represented it to be the living spirit of flame, which, by its own power, at the priestly command mounted from earth to heaven as messenger to the fire god. None who has witnessed a rocket's flight aloft may doubt its effect in exciting the superstitious awe of the devout. So, there is at least a slight excuse for the extravagant fancy that, as we behold the rush of a rocket heavenward, we are indeed watching a spectacle that is still another survival from the sun worship of yore.
A rocket, briefly described, is a projectile containing a composition which, as it burns, generates sufficient gas to drive the rocket forward by reaction against the inertia of the air. As the gas escapes at the base of the rocket, it encounters the resistance of the air, and in the recoil from this the rocket itself is forced upward. The principle involved is exhibited in the recoil of a gun, or even, more simply, in the oar pressure against water by which a boat is propelled. The rocket has been distinguished as the sole projectile have ing no need of gun or cannon for its discharge. In all other forms of ordnance, the power of the recoil has been wasted - until within a few years, when at last inventive genius set it to work in the operation of quick-fire devices.
A medium between the far past and the present in the construction of rockets is afforded by an account written about 100 years ago by Prof. Cutbush, who was an instructor at West Point. His description is essentially as follows, and it will be interesting, later on, to compare it with contemporary productions:
A rocket is a flying fusee, formed out of paper, having a cylindrical shape, which is filled with a composition of certain inflammable substances, and is also pierced in the diameter of its length. The rocket is furnished with a stick, which serves as a balance to guide it vertically in its ascension. It carries, in addition, different garnitures, or furniture, such as stars, serpents, fire rings, marrons, meteors, and the like, which, as they are thrown off at the termination of the flight, produce an appearance of great beauty.
Rockets have been applied to a variety of uses. Thus, besides serving as a means for entertainment and for signaling purposes, they are used in war as an incendiary weapon. This variety was greatly improved by Sir William Congreve.
The rocket cases are always cylindrical. They are formed generally of pasteboard, which is filled with a peculiar composition, consisting of meal powder, saltpeter, sulphur, and charcoal. Sometimes, however, the powder is omitted, and on occasion pulverized cast iron is added. In the construction of war rockets, iron cases were often substituted for those of paper. This was the case with the Congreve rocket.
The outer diameter of the cylinder is usually from 1 1/2 to 2 inches, while the length of the charge is always 5 diameters. The interior diameter is two-thirds as much as the exterior.
The tools used in the construction are a rod, or former, on which the case is molded, and an artisan's tool employed for rolling the paper. There is also a conical spit, or piercer, by means of which the rocket, when loaded, has a hollow through the middle. This piercer should be four and two-thirds times as long as the outer diameter of the rocket, and one-third of that diameter at its small end. There are required also three rods for the loading. These have each a conical aperture, in order to receive the piercer. There are, finally, a massif, and a ladle, or measure, of which the diameter is equal to the interior diameter of the rocket, and of which the length is three times that diameter.
The construction of the paper cylinder, or cartouche, is of pasteboard, of which three or even more thicknesses are employed, rolling the paper on the former until a sufficient thickness is attained. An important part of the manufacture is the choking of the cylinder. This is accomplished by means of a cord having a diameter of three lines. In the operation, one end of the cord is firmly fastened to the wall, while the other is attached to a stick. The worker then bestrides the cord and regulates its tension by leaning against the stick.
The rocket is loaded by introducing ladlefuls of the appropriate composition, one at a time, after the case has been set in position over the piercer. A rammer and mallet are necessary tools for compressing the charge.