Rewriting Life

Space Plane Grounded

Aerospace

Far from being ready for space, NASA’s billion-dollar space plane, a critical transitional craft in replacing the Space Shuttle, is in deep trouble. The maiden test flights of the X-33 hypersonic plane were scheduled for the middle of this year. But NASA now says the prototype will not fly until at least the end of 2001.

Indeed, if the critics have their way, the X-33 may never leave the ground. At congressional hearings in April, House space subcommittee chairman Dana Rohrabacher criticized NASA’s strategy for replacing the Space Shuttle. “By resisting the philosophy of build a little, test a little, NASA had put all of our cheap-access-to-space eggs in one fragile technology basket.”

The X-33 has been an ambitious-and controversial-project from the start. The plane, being built by a NASA-Lockheed Martin partnership, is meant to demonstrate the feasibility of “single-stage-to-orbit” (SSTO) technology. If the X-33 proves the credibility of the SSTO strategy, the technology could be used in a privately funded spaceship, Venture Star, to replace the Space Shuttle.

This story is part of our July/August 2000 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

At stake is more than just a suitable replacement for the Space Shuttle. The X-33 will be NASA’s first new space-related flight test program in two decades. And many observers are watching to see whether the sometimes beleaguered space agency has any technology magic left.

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.

  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Join in and ask questions as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

You've read of free articles this month.