In general, missile may refer to anything thrown or launched object at a target like a javelin or darts. Nowadays, it means, mostly, a self-propelled guided weapon system.

Moscow Parad 2008 Ballist
MBR Topol M at the Moscow parade rehearsal.

Missiles are used in war to destroy military targets. Missiles can carry explosives or other destructive loads. The loads a missile may carry are called a "payload". This payload is not always harmful to people: for example in the 1991 Gulf War, missiles threw reels of wire at electric power stations, causing the power to go out.

Types of missiles

The two main kinds of missiles are simple "rockets" and "guided missiles". A rocket is no longer controlled once it has been launched. Most guided missile are also propelled by a rocket engine but can be controlled after it has been launched. Some missiles used in anti-aircraft warfare, such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder, guide themselves with temperature. Others guide themselves by radar or are under radio control.

The V-1 flying bomb was an early cruise missile, a little airplane with a bomb, propelled by a jet engine instead of a rocket.

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Missile Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.