In the newly launched NASA Commons set on Flickr, the space agency has released a number of incredible images of iconic spacecraft and aircraft taking to the skies above the United States. Here is a selection of 15 fantastic photos from the collection that truly capture the pioneering spirit of NASA in its bid to conquer the final frontier.
The X-15 speeds away from its B-52 mothership with rocket engine ignited. The white patches near the middle of the craft are frost caused by liquid oxygen used in the propulsion system. Frigid liquid nitrogen was also used to cool the payload bay, cockpit, windshields, and nose. The X-15 was developed to provide in-flight data on aerodynamics, structures, flight controls, and the physiological aspects of high-speed, high-altitude flight.
The rocket plane speeds skyward after launch at the Dryden Flight Research Center, California (left). To the right, the inaugural blast-off of Lockheed Martin’s Athena II launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral (January 6) sent NASA’s Lunar Prospector spacecraft to orbit the Moon. Lunar Prospector is a spin-stabilized spacecraft designed to provide NASA with the first global maps of the Moon’s surface and its gravitational magnetic fields, as well as look for the possible presence of ice near the lunar poles.
In this 1965 photograph, the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV) is shown at near maximum altitude over the south base at Edwards Air Force Base. During Apollo planning in 1960, NASA studied concepts designed to simulate decent to the lunar surface: an electronic simulator, a tethered device, and this ambitious free-flying vehicle. All three became serious projects, but NASA Flight Research Center’s Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV) won the day.
In these incredible images, research pilot Bill Dana watches NASA’s NB-52B cruise overhead after a research flight in the HL-10 (top). Below, the HL-10 Lifting Body powers away from the B-52 mothership. The HL-10 was one of five lifting body designs flown at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center from July 1966 to November 1975 to study the concept of safely maneuvering and landing a low lift-over-drag vehicle designed for reentry from space.
Discovery, you are go for launch! Above, the space shuttle Discovery is seen at various stages of lift-off: arching through a cloud-brushed sky (top), rocketing towards the International Space Station (left), and completing the first evening shuttle launch since 2002 (right), at 8:47pm on December 9, 2006.
Shock waves stream from the massive engine nozzles of NASA’s SR-71B as it leaves the runway on a 1992 flight from the Dryden Flight Research Center in California. The twin-cockpit “B” model is one of three SR-71s initially loaned to NASA from the Air Force for use in a high-speed, high-altitude research program.
In this awesome image, the SR-71B Blackbird is silhouetted against the orange hues of the western sky on a 1995 flight from the Dryden Flight Research Center. The “B” model was the pilot trainer variant, hence the slightly odd-looking second cockpit jutting from the Blackbird’s upper fuselage.
In this 1950s photograph, a Douglas Skyrocket D-558-2 is launched from the underside of a Navy P2B-1S. Early flights of the D-558-2s used the aircraft’s jet engine and took off from a conventional runway, limiting its speed and altitude. The solution was to convert the D-558-2 to a rocket or combined jet-and-rocket propulsion system and airdrop it from the P2B-1S, which was a converted B-29 Superfortress.
The solar-electric Helios Prototype flying wing takes to the sky for its first test flight on solar power from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii, July 14, 2001. The 18-hour flight tested the aircraft’s systems and performance in preparation for an attempt to reach sustained flight at 100,000 feet. Helios was a modification of the earlier Centurion solar-powered flying wing demonstrator.
In this somewhat ironic photo, Space Shuttle Atlantis appears to be heading for the Moon. But on this occasion the ship is attached to the top of NASA’s modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, not heading for space but rather home to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, after previously re-entering the atmosphere to land at Edwards Air Force Base.
Last but not least, this awesome shot shows the X-24A igniting its XLR-11 rocket engine after being drop launched from its B-52 mothership. Seen here on the edge of space, high-altitude contrails stream from the X-24A’s wings against a piercingly dark blue sky. (All images released into public domain under NASA Commons.)
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