Shh! USAF's Secret X-37B Space Plane Breaks Record
The US Air Force robotic X-37B space plane has broken the record for the longest mission in the program's history - more than 674 days.
(USAF's Secret X-37B Space Plane)
The Air Force is known to have two X-37B vehicles, both of which were built by aerospace giant Boeing. The X-37B launches vertically and lands horizontally on a runway, just like NASA's now-retired space shuttle orbiters did.
The Air Force vehicle also looks like a miniature version of the space shuttle. Each solar-powered X-37B is just 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.6 feet (2.9 m) tall, with a wingspan of about 15 feet (4.6 m). For comparison, the space shuttle was about 122 feet (37 m) long, with a wingspan of 78 feet (24 m).
Together, these two X-37Bs have flown four space missions to date...
Robert Heinlein's many fans may recall the shuttle ships from his 1951 novel Between Planets, which had similar capabilities:
A shuttle ship up from the surface could leave any spot on Venus, rendezvous with the ship in orbit, then land on its port of departure or on any other point having expended a theoretical minimum of fuel. As soon as the Nautilus had parked, such shuttles began to swarm up to her. They were more airplane than spaceship, for, although each was sealed and pressurized to operate outside the atmosphere while making contact with orbiting spaceships, each was winged and was powered with ramjet atmosphere engines as well as with rocket jets. Like frogs, they were adapted to two media.
(Read more about Heinlein's shuttle ships)
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