Well before the shuttle Enterprise came along (assembly began in 1974), NASA researchers were already cooking up ideas for "lifting body" spacecraft that didn't look or work exactly like a tubular rocket. Throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s, NASA worked through a series of lifting-body prototypes that it says were quite influential on the eventual shuttle program.
This artist's rendering from 1962 shows three such designs, from left to right: the M2-F1, the M1-L, and a lenticular shape. The wingless structure--the body of the vehicle itself provides the lift in the atmosphere--would allow for a horizontal re-entry, like the descent of an airplane, which in turn would mean less damage from the extreme heat of re-entry, according to the space agency. It was the M2-F1 design that would soon enough be flying.
April 11, 2010 6:00 AM PDT
Photo by: NASA Dryden Flight Research Center (NASA-DFRC)
| Caption by: Jonathan Skillings
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