A fantastic variety of skills

In 1969, NASA donated one of the X-15s to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum;it hangs today in the main hall. The official press release for the donation read, ''The capability of the human pilot for sensing, judging, coping with the unexpected, and employing a fantastic variety of acquired skills remains undiminished in all of the key problem areas of aerospace flight.''50

In addition to contributions in hypersonics and related sciences, the X-15 put human pilots in space, ensuring them a place in the cockpit in future space missions. While the skill of reentry was easily handled by automated systems, the pilot's primary function evolved to be a redundant system, a systems manager, coordinating a variety of controls as much as directly controlling the vehicle.

The X-15 represented the state of the art in research into aerospace control systems and pilot interfaces when Apollo began. It also had had several significant connections to Apollo. Most obvious is Armstrong himself: the man who piloted the first lunar landing was an X-15 pilot who specialized in flight controls. The Apollo spacecraft was designed and built by a team at North American Aviation derived from the one that built the X-15, with Scott Crossfield, the original X-15 test pilot, as the program manager (by contrast, the Mercury and Gemini capsules were built by McDonnell Douglas). X-15 ground control and tracking protocols (including using a test pilot on the ground to communicate with the pilot flying the mission) set the stage for NASA's Houston-controlled approach to manned missions.51

Through these informal channels, and more explicit efforts discussed in the next chapter, the pilot-centered, ''airmen's'' approach to spaceflight, originated at NACA Langley and thrust into the space age by the X-15, began finding its way to the moon. It would not be unchanged by the journey.

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