50 Years Ago in Space History

Fifty years ago today — March 10, 1959 — NASA flew the X-15 research plane on its first “captive” flight attached to their B-52 test aircraft.

(NASA Image E-4935. Click to enlarge. For more images, see NASA’s X-15 photo collection.)

The X-15 program eventually carried pilots to the edge of space from Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

And in the category of personal nostalgia, I have a picture of that same B-52 aircraft on my office wall, courtesy of my boss at the Rocket Lab at Edwards. In my picture, it doesn’t have an X-15 attached to the pylon: it’s carrying the Pegasus space launch vehicle, for which I served on the Flight Readiness Review panel. (Which was still pretty cool for a starry-eyed young lieutenant.)

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This Space History Series Makes Me Feel Old

Especially items like this one: 30 years ago today — March 5, 1979 — Voyager-1 passed Jupiter at a distance of 278,000 kilometers (c. 173,000 miles … closer than the moon is to the earth) and sent back photos and data about the gas giant.

On another note, it’s unfortunate that Voyager had to star in the awful first STAR TREK movie.

In other space history, 35 years ago today the X-24B research vehicle made its first supersonic flight with NASA pilot John A. Manke at the controls. This took place, of course, at Edwards AFB, where I would be stationed just a few years later at the Air Force Rocket Propulsion Laboratory (seen in the background of the attached photo of an X-24B landing; more available here).

(NASA Photo ECN-4351. Click to enlarge.)

Yes, just a precious few years later I was climbing around those test stands on Leuhman Ridge. Those were good days, but these days are good, too.

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Why does the Chinese military need a space station?

Back in the early days of space launch, the U.S. conceived the idea of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, or MOL (pronounced “mole”), and built Space Launch Complex 6 at Vandenberg AFB from which it would be launched. But when unmanned satellites proved both capable and robust, DoD dropped the idea of a manned military outpost as both unnecessary and cost-prohibitive. The MOL program was cancelled, and SLC-6 mothballed until the next program came along.

I have to wonder, then, why the Chinese have apparently decided that they want to orbit a military space station as early as next year.

As I wrote yesterday in the Space Warfare Forum,

That’s right, folks: a Chinese MILITARY space station. Not a Chinese module on the International Space Station, not a Chinese civilian, scientific space station, but a Chinese MILITARY space station.

Here’s the story, complete with images of the model unveiled during Chinese New Year celebrations.

And here’s what we have in the works: .

Looks as if we’re giving up the high ground.

I haven’t seen much other discussion about this, and that bothers me. I can only hope that my old Air Force compadres are on the case, but keeping mum about it.

Meanwhile, maybe I’ll dust off the nonfiction space superiority book I wrote a few years ago and see if I can update it and interest someone in publishing it.

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