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One of the most amazing endeavors man has ever undertaken is the exploration of space A big part of the amazement is the complexity Space exploration is complicated because there are so many interesting problems to solve and obstacles to overcome You have things like The vacuum of space Heat management problems The difficulty of re-entry Orbital mechanics Micrometeorites and space debris Cosmic and solar radiation Restroom facilities in a weightless environment And so on But the biggest problem of all is harnessing enough energy simply to get a spaceship off the ground That is where rocket engines come in Rocket engines are on the one hand so simple that you can build and fly your own model rockets very inexpensively see the links at the bottom of the page for details On the other hand rocket engines and their fuel systems are so complicated that only two countries have actually ever put people in orbit In this edition of How Stuff Works we will look at rocket engines to understand how they work as well as to understand some of the complexity The Basics When most people think about motors or engines they think about rotation For example a reciprocating gasoline engine in a car produces rotational energy to drive the wheels An electric motor produces rotational energy to drive a fan or spin a disk A steam engine is used to do the same thing as is a steam turbine and most gas turbines Rocket engines are fundamentally different Rocket engines are reaction engines The basic principle driving a rocket engine is the famous Newtonian principle that to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction A rocket engine is throwing mass in one direction and benefiting from the reaction that occurs in the other direction as a result This concept of throwing mass and benefiting from the reaction can be hard to grasp at first because that does not seem
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