The idea of a winged space vehicle was considered as an alternative to the ballistic capsule approach many times before NASA finally decided to develop its reusable Space Shuttle system


Neil Armstrong poses with the North American X-15 following a successful test flight. The hypersonic plane flew 199 flights between 1959 and 1968.


This lifting body first flew in 1966, dropped from beneath a B-52 bomber. It tested techniques for highspeed gliding that would eventually be used by the Space Shuttle.

Of the many great missed opportunities of the Space Age, the Multi-Unit Space Transport And Recovery Device (MUSTARD) is one of the most intriguing. First proposed by the British Aircraft Corporation in 1965 but abandoned a few years later, MUSTARD would have used three identical "stacked" lifting bodies, launched like a conventional rocket. The lower stages would separate and glide back to Earth at altitudes of 45-60km (28-38 miles), after pumping their remaining fuel into the orbiter stage. This would in theory allow the orbiter to reach space with full fuel tanks, potentially allowing it to continue to the Moon.

among others. This long, slender aircraft still relied on a lift to high altitude, but with larger wings it generated more lift as it fell back to Earth. Perhaps the closest parallel of all to the Space Shuttle was the X-20 Dyna-Soar - an abandoned USAF plan for a winged aircraft that would have been launched into orbit on top of a rocket.

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