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A Permanent Presence in Space

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Dyna-Soar model
35 k jpeg
SI#: 97-16262-4


A week after the launch of Sputnik in October 1957, the U.S. Air Force authorized a research program for a manned space glider called Dyna-Soar (Dynamic Soaring Vehicle). Studies resulted in a concept for a military spacecraft that would be launched on a Titan III rocket and then rendezvous with enemy satellites to inspect and possibly destroy them.

To emphasize the experimental nature of the program, Dyna-Soar was renamed X-20 in 1962. As it seemed to duplicate plans for the civilian manned spaceflight program, the X-20 project was canceled in 1963.

57 k jpeg
Courtesy of Boeing,
SI#: 2003-15269


After the Department of Defense canceled Dyna-Soar, NASA continued to study other designs for manned spacecraft, including lifting bodies--wingless aircraft that derive lift from their shape. From 1966 to 1975, NASA built and tested three different lifting body designs: the M-2, HL-10, and X-24. The resulting data on aerodynamic performance during reentry was crucial for the design of the Space Shuttle orbiter.

X-24A, M2-F3 and HL-10 on runway.
30 k jpeg
NASA#: EC69-2353

After 16 test flights and a nearly fatal crash, the M2-F2 was repaired in 1967 and a center tail fin was added to improve stability. The modified vehicle was renamed the M2-F3.
M2-F3 in flight
53 k jpeg
NASA#: 66-HC-1947


The M2-F3 lifting body test vehicle completed 27 flights from 1967 through 1972. Early flights were unpowered; on later flights it was boosted to high altitude by a rocket engine. The actual craft is suspended overhead in the gallery.

Transferred from NASA

M2-F3 Lifting Body diagram
Length: 6.8 m (22 ft 2 in)
Span: 2.9 m (9 ft 7 in)
Height: 2.5 m (8 ft 9 in)
Weight: 4,500 kg (10,000 lb)
Manufacturer: Northrop
M2-F3 Lifting Body on display
91 k jpeg
SI#: 97-16269-8

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