In AD 1232 the Chinese defended the city of K’ai-feng against the Mongols with gunpowder rockets.
In the early 1800s British army officer William Congreve developed metal rockets carrying explosives.
In World War II the Germans developed the first guided missiles — missiles steered to their target in flight.
The most frightening German guided missiles were the V-1 flying bombs or ‘doodlebugs’ and the V-2 supersonic rockets. The V-2s flew at 5300 km/h.
Ballistic missiles arch through the air like a thrown ball. Rockets propel them on the upward trajectory (path). They then coast down on their target. Cruise missiles are propelled by jet on a low flat path all the way.
In the 1950s the USA and Soviet Union competed to develop long-range ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) usually armed with nuclear warheads.
American Tomahawk cruise missiles could be aimed through goalposts at both ends of a football field 500 km away.
In the 1960s antiballistic missiles were developed to shoot down missiles.
Some ICBMs have a range of over 5000 km. Short-range missiles (SRBMs) like Pershings reach up to 500 km.
SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) like Redeye are fired from the ground at aircraft. Some can he fired by a soldier with a backpack. AAMs (air-to-air missiles) like Sidewinders are fired from planes for use against other planes.
Rocket missiles can carry nuclear warheads or other weapons halfway around the world.