X-15: The NASA Mission Reports, Incorporating Files from the USAF
Apogee Books, 2000 - Science - 408 pages
The history of aviation in the 20th century is filled with remarkable accomplishments. None more remarkable than the world's first winged spacecraft. From 1957 to 1975 the United States and the Soviet Union played a high stakes game as they put crew after crew atop barely-perfected missiles and hurled them further and further afield. In 1952, long before Sputnik, the NASA along with the United States Air Force and Navy determined to build an aircraft that would be capable of reaching into outer space. While the rest of the world continued to fly around in propeller-driven aircraft, North American Aviation of California constructed a one-seater bullet powered by a rocket engine with unparalleled thrust. When the craft was unveiled in 1958, the hypersonic vehicle was a bold as anything ever attempted in the history of flight. From 1959 to 1968 the three X-15s would carry twelve daring test-pilots to the fringes of space and bring them back nearly 200 times. With the notable exception of the Space Shuttle, the X-15 is the only manned, winged vehicle to go into space repeatedly and return to its point of origin. It is rarely noted that a mere four months after John Glenn became the first American in orbit, Major Robert White took the X-15 into space and then "flew" his vehicle back to a runway at Edwards' Air Force Base. Thanks to the engineers and to the ace pilots who flew the X-15, mountains of new information about hypersonic flight were uncovered. Much of this research was then successfully applied to Mercury and Apollo. An often forgotten part of the super-powers' competition, the unique black vehicle, flying high above the deserts of California and Utah, consistently broke every record in the book. Today many of those records will stand.
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