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With the Soviet Union's launch of the first Sputnik satellite in 1957, the Cold War soared to new heights as Americans feared losing the race into space. The X-15 Rocket Plane tells the enthralling yet little-known story of the hypersonic X-15, the winged rocket ship that met this challenge and opened the way into human-controlled spaceflight. Drawing on interviews with those who were there, Michelle Evans captures the drama and excitement of, yes, rocket science: how to handle the heat generated at speeds up to Mach 7, how to make a rocket propulsion system that could throttle, and how to safely re-enter the atmosphere from space and make a precision landing. The X-15 Rocket Plane puts a human face on the feats of science and engineering that went into the X-15 program, many of them critical to the development of the Space Shuttle. And, finally, it introduces us to the largely unsung pilots of the X-15. By the time of the Apollo 11 moon landing, thirty-one American astronauts had flown into space – eight of them astronaut-pilots of the X-15. The X-15 Rocket Plane restores these pioneers, and the others who made it happen, to their rightful place in the history of spaceflight.
Michelle Evans is the founder of Mach 25 Media and is an aerospace writer, photographer, and education specialist. She served in the U.S. Air Force working on nuclear missiles, is the producer of several documentaries about space exploration, and is a contributor to Space Daily, Space.com, and Ad Astra.
Joe H. Engle was the eighth pilot of the X-15 research aircraft and flew sixteen rocket plane missions. He later orbited the earth as the commander of the space shuttle "Columbia" and again with "Discovery".
"Engle and Armstrong devotees won't be disappointed with the stories about their heroes in this tome."
– American Space
"The X-15 Rocket Plane is an engaging account of America's push into space before pilots became astronauts, and America began a new era of exploration beyond the Earth to the Moon."
– Anthony Young, Space Review
"[The X-15 Rocket Plane is] a cogently written and well-deserved tribute to the individuals who helped take a winged rocket beyond Earth's confining atmosphere."
– John Carver Edwards, Book Verdict
"Long before the space shuttle, the United States was flying astronauts with the courage of lions into space aboard wings of steel. This is the story of the astonishing X-15, America's first space plane, which broke records nearly every time it flew. It is a magnificent tale, well told in this meticulously researched book. Everyone with an interest in aviation, space, or high-flying adventure should read it."
– Homer Hickam, author of Rocket Boys
"This book gives a fascinating and superbly detailed look into X-15 technology and the dedicated people who first took a winged craft beyond the atmosphere. Along the way it teaches valuable and pertinent lessons for those of us in the private space sector now working to build on that phenomenal legacy."
– Rick Searfoss, colonel, USAF retired, space shuttle commander and pilot, XCOR Aerospace chief test pilot
"In this gripping book, Michelle Evans brings to life the X-15 and the aerospace pioneers who made it a success. For those already aware of the program, this will bring back fond memories and renew an appreciation for the remarkable people who conceived, operated, and supported this incredible craft. For those who aren't, prepare for an incredible journey of discovery."
– Richard P. Hallion, former historian of the USAF (1991–2002), the Air Force Flight Test Center (1982–86), and NASA Dryden Flight Research Center (1976–82)