- Posted April 18, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Space to Smithsonian: The shuttle's final journey
Science Fiction? think again...
problem: how to test the first space shuttle prototype without the danger and expense of a "launch". there were tons of things that needed testing obviously, but one of the major factors was how the shuttle would glide back to earth and land safely. no real way to do it without just doing it.
concept: re-jigger an old American Airlines 747 to piggyback the shuttle up to 40K feet, unhook it, and let the shuttle pilots take it down and land it in the mojave desert. nobody, nor the super computers at that time were able to predict what obstacles they would face or whether or not this thing would even fly! the cold war was still if full effect so all of this had to be done in secret.
my dad was managing a team of engineers who were responsible for the piggy back mechanism and the re-engineering the aeronautics of the 747 with a space shuttle strapped to the top. when he brought home this photo of the designer's rendering, we couldnt believe that this was actually happening. seemed like science fiction to us, but the thought of going into space and flying (rather than falling) back home to earth was so exciting i think it pumped us all up as americans.
long story short, the shuttle program was a success. watching the last shuttle (discovery) make its final flight on board that 747 en route to the smithsonian would have been a proud moment for my dad and it was for me.
the rendering is signed by astronaut Deke Slayton who i think was one of the first pilots to fly that bird. the other photo is one of the test runs over the mojave, taken from a spotting plane flying next to it.