A rocket in its simplest form is a chamber enclosing a gas under pressure. A small opening at one end of the chamber allows the gas to escape, and in doing so provides a thrust that propels the rocket in the opposite direction. A good example of this is a balloon. Air inside a balloon is compressed by the balloon's rubber walls. The air pushes back so that the inward and outward pressing forces are balanced. When the nozzle is released, air escapes through it and the balloon is propelled in the opposite direction.

When we think of rockets, we rarely think of balloons. Instead, our attention is drawn to the giant vehicles that carry satellites into orbit and spacecraft to the Moon and planets. Nevertheless, there is a strong similarity between the two. The only significant difference is the way the pressurized gas is produced. With space rockets, the gas is produced by burning propellants that can be solid or liquid in form or a combination of the two.