Rocket Ship Rhetoric


Parts of Speech with Rocketry Examples


Before identifying parts of speech with rocket features, the parts of speech are listed below.  Each will be examined based on its function as related to facets of space technology.  In doing so, much will be learned about grammar as well as spacecraft and rockets. Examples will feature space terms such as orbit, mission, thrust, guidance, maneuver, landing, launch, etc.  The content is intended for review of the most basic features of English grammar rather than delving into subtle rules, usage, and forms addressed in a semester’s English rhetoric study.

Here is the definition of parts of speech.

Parts of Speech - This is the way words can be used in various contexts. Every English word acts  as at least one part of speech.  Also, many words, at various times, can serve as two or more parts of speech.  This depends on the context.

Following is the list of the parts of speech in the order they are discussed in relation to space technology.

Noun - A word or phrase that names a person, place, thing, quality, or act (Fred, New York, table, beauty, execution). A noun may be used as the subject of a verb, the object of a verb, an identifying noun, the object of a preposition, or an appositive (an explanatory phrase coupled with a subject or object).

Pronoun - A word that substitutes for a noun and refers to a person, place, thing, idea, or act that was mentioned previously or that can be inferred from the context of the sentence (he, she, it, that).

Adjective - A word or combination of words that modifies a noun (fiery, central, half-baked, multi-staged).

Article - Any of three words used to signal the presence of a noun. “A” and “an” are known as indefinite articles. The is the definite article.

Verb - A word or phrase that expresses action, existence, or occurrence (throw, be, happen ). Verbs can be transitive, requiring an object (her in I met her ), or intransitive, requiring only a subject (The sun rises ). Some verbs, like feel , are both transitive (Feel the fabric ) and intransitive (I feel cold , in which cold is an adjective and not an object).

Adverb - A word that modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb (slowly, obstinately, much).

Preposition - A word or phrase that shows the relationship of a noun to another noun (at, by, in, to, from, with)

Conjunction - A word that connects other words, phrases, or clauses (and, but, or, because).

Interjection - A word, phrase, or sound used as an exclamation and capable of standing by itself (blast-off, A-O-K, touch-down, Godspeed).


The Rocket Ship


If Tom Swift’s rocket ship were a noun, then its engine would be a verb to give it action.

A noun is the name of any person, place or thing such as astronaut, Mars, rocket .

(Rocket Ship Rhetoric designates all the types of rockets as the types of nouns .  If the engine is deemed the rocket ship’s “verb” then, in like fashion, the rocket/spaceship itself is the noun upon which the engine [verb] acts upon. Following this reasoning, there are solid fuel rockets, liquid fuel rockets, atomic rockets, etc.  Each is propelled by their respective engines/verbs.)


Simple Rocket

Compared to modern rockets, Jules Verne’s “bullet-like” rocket shell is a simpler form, just as a pronoun is a simpler form of a noun.

A pronoun is a word used for or instead of a noun to keep us from repeating the same noun too often. Pronouns, like nouns, have case, number, gender and person. There are three kinds of pronouns, personal, relative and adjective.  (With regard to Rocket Ship Rhetoric, a like system is, at first, not apparent.  What about rocketry would identify with another way of naming a rocket for variety of expression?  How about simply using an alternative name, i.e., a synonym  like booster or  missile?  While that satisfies the need for variety of expression, such names aren’t shortened forms identifying the various rockets.   Oh well, we tried!)


The Rocket Fuel

Rocket Fuel Types – Solid, Liquid, Hypergolic, Atomic

An adjective is a word which qualifies a noun, that is, which shows some distinguishing mark or characteristic belonging to the noun.   (For our rocket ship counterpart, any system or feature which affects the operation/performance of the rocket would qualify as a Rocket Ship Rhetoric adjective.  Perhaps, the best example would be a rocket’s fuel type. )


Orbit, Trajectory, Path

A Rocket can be used to put a satellite into orbit A Javelin Thrower 

Article - Any of three words used to signal the presence of a noun. “A” and “an” are known as indefinite articles; the is the definite article.

Based on designating the noun as the rocket ship, a corresponding space meaning of article must relate to pointing to or identifying  the rocket, i.e., signifying it among the features of space technology.   What signals the presence of a rocket?  Of course, by definition, it has to be what it does: “a device used as a propelling unit” according to its dictionary definition.  Immediately, the concept of the orbit or trajectory comes to mind.  All rockets have an orbit, a trajectory, or a path through which they soar.  A 4th of July bottle rocket, a Mars rocket, or child’s water-rocket follow a path in their performance.   And that will be the rocketry item which equates to the article as a part of speech, the rocket’s trajectory.


The Rocket Engine

A verb is a word which signifies action or the doing of something. A verb is inflected by tense and mood and by number and person, though the latter two belong strictly to the subject of the verb. (A verb is the rocket engine of a sentence.  It, like rocket types,  has a distinct energy, i.e., a strong verb, akin to a powerful cryogenic rocket, or a common-place weak verb mindful of those early “fire-works” type low energy solid fuel engines.)

But there is another facet of verbs that must be discussed.  It has to do with whether the subject, the noun, designated the space ship, acts or is acted upon.  In the case of the  noun/verb acting, the term used is ACTIVE VOICE.  On the other hand, when the subject/noun is acted upon, the term employed is PASSIVE VOICE. 

How does this relate to rocketry? At first, this seems an impossible correlation, i.e., distinguishing how a rocket engine can be passive.  But, perhaps, we can devise another facet of a rocket engine that is, indeed, passive?

How about considering the principle of kinetic energy versus potential energy? Kinetic energy is the energy of motion, thrust, blasting off while potential energy is the potential to apply the power of tons of ignited rocket fuel to imparting acceleration and escape velocity to a Moon rocket.  One is active. The other is passive.  While this correlation is a bit flawed, nevertheless, it does explain a principle of space rocketry and physics.

The below comic book panels from the Apollo 13 comic resident in the NASA Space Educators’ Handbook website are examples of potential energy and kinetic energy. Prior to the igniting of the Oxygen Tank, the explosive energy was stored in its potential destructive state.  But once ignited, that potential was released into a kinetic active propulsive energy state. 


Potential Energy State in O2 Tank versus Kinetic Active Energy State After ignition


The Rocket Throttle

The rocket throttle, like an adverb,  modifies the rocket engine action.

An Adverb is a word which modifies a verb, an adjective and sometimes another adverb.(Similarly, rocket engines can be modified by adding a “super-charger” providing enhanced power, or, alternatively, altered by virtue of a “throttle” which increases or decreases the engine’s power.  Perhaps, the best analogy between grammar and rocketry for an adverb is the spaceship’s throttle as a modifying influence on the verb.)

Prepositions (Prepositional Phase)

The Launch Pad

The launch pad connects the rocket to its mission (the sentence) at the onset of the journey before the engine (verb) sends the rock ship, noun,  into” space.

The launch pad comes before the rocket ship’s mission pointing where the ship’s engine will direct the craft.  It, like the preposition, is connected to the noun (rocket ship) and shows how the verb, the rocket engine, and noun relate.)

A preposition connects words, clauses, and sentences together and shows the relation between them. "My hand is on the table" shows relation between hand and table.

Prepositions are so called because they are generally placed before the words whose connection or relation with other words prepositions point out.  (Think about what comes before a rocket’s launch.  Of course, the answer is the launch pad.  The pad sets the rockets initial course, i.e., where the pad directs the rocket, usually upward.)




Conjunction (Coordinating/Subordinating)

A conjunction is a word which joins words, phrases, clauses and sentences together. (In rocketry and spacecraft design, there are stages which separate during the course of a space mission.  At each juncture of an Apollo Moon mission, connections had to be “unlatched” in order for the next phase to begin.  The rocketry counterpart for the “conjunction” is the mechanical latch, a structural device used in most spacecraft and rockets. )


The Space “Sortie”

Rockwell spaceplane illustration

An air-launched “sortie” mini-mission to space

The final part of speech addressed by Rocket Ship Rhetoric is the interjection.  By definition, it is: A word, phrase, or sound used as an exclamation and capable of standing by itself (blast-off, A-O-K, touch-down, Godspeed ). It, in effect, is sort of a stand-alone-sentence, even though the interjection has no noun-subject nor verb-predicate.  Just the word itself captures a meaning that needs no sentence structure.  When we hear the word blast-off, immediately, one thinks, “You fire the rocket!”  Likewise, when the letters A-O-K are voiced, it is understood to mean, “Everything is fine.”  Godspeed tells us that prayer and well-wishes have been bestowed upon us by those who voiced the term.  An interjection is, at once, understood to identify with a sentence’s meaning.   How this might relate to space technology and rocketry is, at once, a mystery. What facet of space exploration might be the counterpart to the English interjection as a part of speech? 

A clue might surface after considering the space items which identify with the sentence.  Since the interjection is akin to the sentence in English, the space counterpart should also be related to the space mission as described in the following paragraphs.  The term “sortie” comes to mind.  “Sortie” is an aviator’s term for a brief mission, not one of complicated planning or undertaking.  In fact, recent use of the word for interplanetary flight is meaningful in light of the Apollo Moon missions. 

Wikipedia has an updated space terminology for “sortie” as an astronautic term:

In spaceflight, especially for  NASA's Constellation Program, the term sortie has been coined for a flight of the Orion spacecraft beyond the confluence of low-Earth orbit, such as a flight to the Moon or to the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange Point. This term was not used by NASA for the nine Apollo flights that flew by, orbited, or landed on the Moon between 1968 and 1972.

Since  Space Ship Rhetoric’s definition of mission is the counterpart of the English sentence, the word sortie  is a legitimate space technology counterpart for the English word interjection as a part of speech. When a space technologist says, “Go sortie!” Like an interjection, it is understood to mean, “Take a mini-journey, but, nevertheless, exciting  mission into space.”


A sentence is an independent, stand alone, unit of grammar.  It always begins with a capitalized word, and, likewise, always ends with either a period, question mark, or exclamation point (a period for a statement, a question mark for a question, or an exclamation point for expression of strong felling).  If either the beginning capital letter or ending marks are absent, the sentence is deemed a fragment.  Additionally, a sentence is a word or grouping of words expressing a complete idea and must include a subject and a verb.

It is important to know the meaning of the term sentence clause prior to classifying sentences. A sentence clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb  (predicate). A clause may be either a sentence (an independent clause) or a sentence-like construction within another sentence (a dependent clause).

The Mission

Having collected the parts of speech identified with parts of rockets, it is time to employ/deploy them on a mission.  For rhetoric (grammar) that is the crafting of a sentence.  For the rocket ship (space technology)  that is the planning and execution of a mission.  Indeed, comparing the sentence to a spacecraft mission is a worthy analogy for Rocket Ship Rhetoric.  Pursuing the comparative concept is best treated by the Apollo Program putting humankind on the Moon during the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

Continuing the comparison requires classification of sentence types.  They are the simple sentence, the compound sentence and the complex sentence.  Each has a structure related to an Apollo Mission.  Let’s consider them:

The Simple Sentence

Surveyor was a simple one-way  trip to the Moon, never to return to Earth

The simple sentence’s structure is least complicated, having but one clause or thought voiced by a subject and a verb.  The subject, a noun, either acts, or is acted upon by the verb. This facet of a verb/noun in the sentence context has been discussed earlier as active or passive.  Sentences can be written or spoken in the active or passive voice. In the active voice, the subject of the sentence acts upon something or someone. In the passive voice, the subject is acted upon.  The best example for an Apollo mission similar to a simple sentence would be the preliminary Surveyor voyage.  The unmanned spacecraft journeyed to the Moon never to return.  Its purpose was to confirm the nature of the lunar firmament. The simple outbound phase landed the probe and did not return Surveyor to Earth.  It should be noted that an independent sentence clause, like a simple sentence, has meaning in a stand-alone-sense such that it is tabbed independent.

The Compound Sentence

The Apollo mission had two phases, to the Moon and from the Moon

An Apollo manned Moon mission is an excellent way to describe a compound sentence.  The trip has two similar phases, going to the Moon and returning from the Moon.  Each could be likened to an independent clause of a compound sentence.  Both are required to fulfill the journey, with the lunar landing as the connection or conjunction of the sentence/mission.  

Now, the conjunctions of a compound sentence are called coordinating conjunctions.  A comma must always set them apart from the second independent clause.  Among them are: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.  Use the word “fanboys” as a way of remembering the list by assigning the letters as a memory mnemonic.


But for Rocket Ship Rhetoric, a space technology mnemonic is more appropriate.  So use the mnemonic sentence: (F)ind (A) (N)ova, (B)iggest (O)f (Y)onder (S)tars.  In the sentence, the word “find”  is for “for”, “a” is for “and”,  “nova” is for “nor”, “biggest” is for “but”, “of” is for “or”, “yonder” is for “yet” and “stars” is for “so”, the coordinating conjunctions. (The sentence is almost accurate, although a “Nova” is technically an explosion of a star, not a star.)

The Complex Sentence

“Do you suppose that’s our rescue ship?  Arf! Arf! …Hope so!”

Like the compound sentence, the complex sentence has at least two clauses.  However, only one of them is a stand-alone or independent clause while the other clause is dependent, requiring the independent clause for support.  The connection for these opposite types of clauses is, as with the compound sentence, a conjunction.  However, the conjunction differs in that it is deemed a “subordinating conjunction” rather than the “coordinating conjunction” connecting the clauses of a compound sentence.

Returning to the scheme of equating space technology to grammar features poses challenges.  How can the compound sentence as a “mission” be distinguished from a complex sentence?  In the early days of the Moon race, the Soviets contemplated an approach which would land their cosmonaut on the Moon before Americans.  A smaller rocket could be used if the mission were simply to land and not return to Earth.  A later craft could be launched from Earth to retrieve the cosmonaut for the return to Earth.

While the approach proved problematical, it serves as an example of a complex sentence type mission.  The outbound journey would be akin to the independent clause or main clause with the return voyage obviously dependent (subordinate clause)  on having the cosmonaut awaiting rescue.  Of course, in this case, a sentence fragment would prove fatal!  

The complex sentence might read, “The Soviets landed a cosmonaut on the Moon, although, later, would come a  retrieval mission for return to Earth.”   In this example, the first clause in independent with the second clause, “although……to Earth.” being dependent. The subordinating conjunction is “although.”

The Paragraph

The Apollo Program

If the Apollo mission serves best as a comparison tool to a sentence, then it follows that the collection of Apollo missions, known as the “program,” offers a like analogy to the paragraph, a collection of related sentences, dealing with a common topic.  Based on Apollo’s twelve Moon missions, the example paragraph will contain twelve sentences.

Choosing program to represent the paragraph is quite useful. A paragraph has a variety of sentences types. There are, of course, simple sentences, compound sentences and complex sentences.  We have addressed them earlier. Likewise, the Apollo program had a variety of missions, Apollo 7 simply orbited Earth.  Apollo 8 encircled the Moon and returned to Earth.  Apollo 11 landed on the Moon and returned to Earth.  Apollo 13 exploded in route to the Moon prior to returning to Earth. 

For Rocket Ship Rhetoric, the most inclusive mission would be that mission which embodies best the entire program.  This is the purpose of a paragraph’s “topic sentence.” 

Apollo 11, a topic mission/sentence?

Having examined the uniqueness of the above missions to the program, the obvious choice would be Apollo 11, the first to land men on the Moon.  Beginning with Armstrong’s first step on the Moon, the remainder of the voyages either explain the background leading to the landing or detail how the following missions related to that first landing, the topic mission or sentence.  The paragraph topic sentence might be, “Apollo 11 put the first men on the Moon, however, every Apollo mission contributed, in part, to the success of the program.”

apollo-17 Patch

…or Apollo 17, a better topic mission/sentence choice?

Alternatively, perhaps,  Apollo 17, the last mission to land humans on the Moon, should be chosen.  If that were the case,  then the following sentences (missions) would explain the chronology leading to the successful completion of the Apollo Program, the paragraph.  The topic sentence might be, “The Apollo 17 mission concluded the Moon program successfully because of the success of the previous missions.”


This concludes the session/class on Rocket Ship Rhetoric as a grammar/space technology teaching tool.  Hopefully, students pursuing a career in space technology will have an enhanced interest in both astronautics as well as competency in English grammar. Additionally,  participation in this activity/class could provide students curious about  aerospace studies sufficient introductory background for further investigation.

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