Jets and Moon Rockets: 1957-1970

The Boeing Company ... Dynamic Soaring

In 1958, the U.S. Air Force established the Dyna-Soar development program. Named after "dynamic soaring" or skipping re-entry, it had three different approaches to crewed spaceflight. One was a blunt re-entry shape that later emerged as the McDonnell-built Mercury capsule. Another was a tailored version, allowing the crew to maneuver the vehicle during re-entry. The third was a flat-bottomed hypersonic glider.

Nine contractor teams, including Boeing, competed for the final design, which ultimately was awarded to Boeing on Nov. 9, 1959. The Boeing Dyna-Soar was designated the X-20 on June 19, 1962, but by this time, it had a new competitor for funding -- the McDonnell Gemini program.

Dyna-Soar space vehicle mock-up

The Boeing Dyna-Soar, designed to be a 35.5-foot-long piloted vehicle with a sharply swept delta 20.4-foot-span wing, was shaped remarkably like the space shuttles of today. Constructed of super alloys, with a graphite and zirconia composite nose cap, the X-20 after re-entry would have landed on a dry lakebed using three retractable struts.

The inherent advantages of the Boeing Dyna-Soar vehicle were its maneuverability during re-entry and its reusability. These were not enough to keep the program financed, however. Although the X-20 reached the mock-up stage and $410 million was spent on its development, the U.S. government canceled the program on Dec. 10, 1963. Congress diverted the X-20 funding to the proposed Manned Orbiting Laboratory, which itself was canceled in 1969.

Many Air Force scientists felt that Dyna-Soar flights could have provided valuable information on re-entry flight control and heating problems -- data that would be needed during the development of the space shuttle 15 years later.

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