Born in Naples, Italy on October 26, 1877, Gaetano Crocco began working with solid-propellant rockets in 1927. He had already made his mark in aviation with his pioneering research into three-dimensional flight from a propeller rotating about a single axis (the principal behind the helicopter). Crocco patented one of the first designs for cyclic pitch control of the blades in 1906. Two years later he made Italy’s first dirigible flight, floating above Rome in an airship of his own design. In addition to his interest in aviation, Gaetano Crocco was also a pioneer in hydrofoil boats. In 1929, he designed and built the first liquid-propellant rocket motors in Italy. When he started working with monopropellant rocket fuels (fuel and oxidizer combined in one chemical liquid) in 1932 he was one of the first researchers in this field. Unfortunately, his research ended in 1935 due to a lack of funding, similar to the problems facing early rocket researchers in Germany and the United States.
During his long university career (1926-1952), Gaetano Crocco published more than 170 scientific studies, registered 30 patents and invented 50 different aeronautic instruments, many of them still used for aircraft flight stability. He founded the Italian Rocket Society in 1951 and went on to become Italy’s leading space scientist. As head of the School of Aeronautics of the University of Rome, he performed research on flight mechanics, structural design, and high altitude flight in addition to his work in rocket propulsion throughout the 1950s.
In 1956 Gaetano Crocco proposed trajectories for a Mars flyby mission that would require half the energy, one-third the time, and only a single rocket burn as opposed to the traditional Hohmann Mars expedition scenario. No specific spacecraft design was described, but the Soviets and the Americans in their early manned spacecraft designs used the mission profile he devised.
Because of Crocco’s early efforts in astronautics, Italy orbited its first satellite, the San Marco, in 1964. Gaetano Crocco died at the age of ninety in Rome on January 19, 1968. Asteroid 10606 Crocco and Crocco Crater on the far side of the Moon are named for him.