Toward the Unknown: The North American X-15 – Part 1

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The X-15 ready to go under the wing of the NB-52 [IMG: NASA]
By any measure the North American X-15 was an amazing aircraft. By the end of the decade long, 199 flight programme the three aircraft had pushed airspeed and altitude records way beyond all previous marks. Many X-15 pilots qualified as astronauts on their high altitude flights and the wealth of  operational knowledge that was gained continues to influence aerospace programmes to this day. 

Yet for all this, the X-15 is often overshadowed by NASA’s other activities during the 1960s and its legacy overlooked. It could never go as high or as fast as the capsules launched from the Cape, but the fact remains, at the time it was designed the X-15 looked like it would provide America’s first forays in human spaceflight and as Tom Wolfe points out in The Right Stuff, they would FLY their vehicle there and back.
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How the race was won

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This piece was written as a response to the question “How did the United States win the space race if it was behind the USSR?” posted on Quora and appears in an edited form there. For the purposes of my response I’ve chosen to define the space race as beginning with Sputnik 1 and ending with the successful return to Earth of Apollo 11.

I’m aware this is a definition that many may not agree with, but I feel it serves to frame the argument I wished to make. Please feel free to comment with your opinions, I’m happy to hear them just as you are giving me the time to express mine here!
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