A Rocket Plane which Launched NASA’s Space Age Was Forgotten

The early months of 1962 had Neil Armstrong wrestling with a decision. He had to choose between sticking with an experimental aircraft, represented by the X-15 which was powered by a rocked and had hopes of reaching the edge of the atmosphere, and taking a chance at becoming an actual astronaut.

Armstrong was part of those test pilots that at the time didn’t think that the way to go was to apply for the fledgling space program. By taking various aircrafts to newer extremes they were doing really challenging and serious work. And at the time the question was that would astronauts even be pilots in the first place. That’s because NASA envisioned them at first as test subjects or mere passengers.

Also, Armstrong knew that there were cases when aerospace R&D projects didn’t exactly pan out. Years later, Armstrong admitted to biographer James Hansen that he had a good thing going since he knew that the X-15 program was real. This aircraft was one of the most powerful ever built.

Made years later following the X-1 and Chuck Yeager duo breaking the sound barrier back in 1947 and thus opening the way for the supersonic flight, the X-15 was designed as a way to reach hypersonic flight, which meant approaching and perhaps even exceeding Mach 5. A Mach is represented by the speed of sound.

It really was an experimental aircraft, being a joint design of NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Council on Aeronautics along with the US Air Force, Navy and a private company, the North American Aviation. The X-15 made a lot of progress and delivered a lot of excellence but for it to enter space it would have meant a lot of waiting time. It began to compete with the Mercury program and eventually, it stayed behind.

Bonnie Davidson

As our second lead editor, Bonnie Davidson provides guidance on the stories Digital Overload reporters cover. She has been instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. If you see a particularly clever title, you can likely thank Becky. Becky received a BA and MA from Fordham University.

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