At a time when NASA is looking forwards by going backwards – reusing bits of the Saturn and bits of the Shuttle and a 4-6 person capsule – it’s interesting to read about the USAF’s X-37 mini-Shuttle project. This article in Air & Space Smithsonian does a nice job reviewing the history and future of this programme. The first flight of the unmanned spaceplane is expected in April 2010.
After 40 years, we’re getting the successor to the X-15 and X-20 Dyna-Soar. Neil Armstrong flex the X-15 and was slated to fly the X-20 before it was cancelled. I wonder if he would have been as famous for making the first flight on that as he became for landing on the moon. Probably not, but it’s an interesting piece of counter-factual history to wonder whether the US space programme would be in better shape today if it had taken a piloted, gradual, winged approach instead of Von Braun and Kennedy’s big bang. Or perhaps they did but it’s classified.