Rocket Propulsion

If you've ever shot a gun, or more specifically a shotgun, and felt the recoil, you understand how a rocket works. Newton's 3rd law of motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. By firing a shotgun forward, you are thrown back slightly. Similarly, a rocket literally "throws stuff" out the back (or downward if you want to think of it that way). This action in turn creates a force that "throws" the rocket forward or upward. As you might imagine, the rocket has to throw a lot of "stuff" very fast in order to get the liftoff it requires. For a slightly more detailed look at the mathematics of how a rocket develops thrust, see the Nozzles section of the site about the Aerospike Engine.
- answer by Aaron Brown, 17 June 2001

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