|Flying without wings : NASA lifting bodies and the birth of the space shuttle
|Milton O. Thompson ; Curtis Peebles
|[S.l.] : Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999
|ISBN / ISSN / EAN :
|Includes bibliographical references and index
|Lifting bodies (Aeronautics)--Research--United States--History ; Space shuttles--United States--History
Tests pilots in the dawn of the space age envisioned spaceflight as an extension of atmospheric flight. They assumed that experimental aircraft would fly progressively faster and higher until one would go into orbit and return to Earth in a conventional runway touchdown. By the late 1950s a small group of NASA engineers and pilots were designing oddly shaped, wingless aircraft known as lifting bodies. Thir goal was to develop a vehicle that could survive the heat of reentry into the atmosphere, fly at subsonic speeds, and make controlled, horizontal landings, much like an airplane. But NASA, determined to beat the Soviets to the moon, adopted the more easily implemented Mercury capsules, which were controlled largely by booster technology and required risky, expensive ocean splashdowns and recoveries. The proponents of lifting bodies continued during the 1960s and 1970s to refine and test the concept. Their research eventually became central to the design of the space shuttle, which first flew in 1981.
Written by a pilot-engineer who participated in every phase of NASA's lifting body program, "Flying without wings" documents the adventure, triumphs, setbacks, and fun of pioneering a technology that allowed astronauts to accomplish lifting reentries and precise runway landings. He tells how, after the cancellation of the Air Force's Dyna-Soar program, the first lifting body projects such as the Paresev paraglider and the M2-F1 wer built on shoestring budgets at Edwards Air Force Base, California, often without the knowledge of official at the NASA headquarters. He descibes hair-raising test flights, including his near-crash in the M2-F2 in 1966, and he details his successful efforts to eliminate landing engines from early space shuttle designs. Because of the shuttle's success, the wingless lifting-body concept has enjoyed a resurgence of interest since the late 1980s, and two new lifting body programs, the X-33 and the X-38, are currently underway.
Charting the transformation of aircraft into spacecraft, this vivid memoir describes the efforts of a small group of pilots and researchers to prove a seemingly impossible aerodynamic concept that would profoundly influence the history of spaceflight.