The X-34 program was designed to help break NASA and the Air Force into space far more often and inexpensively than ever before. In the end, a pair of rocket plane demonstrators were built, but they have never been able to reach their full potential. Still, they have been part of a broader family of initiatives that have resulted in the X-37B mini-space plane of the Air Force, which has remained in orbit near continuously for years. But after the shine on the program, it quickly faded around the turn of the millennium, the unique craft found itself in increasingly dire straits, stuffed in a dilapidated hangar or another, or weathering the harsh desert climate in the open.
At times it seemed like the X-34s would get a second chance at life, being brought back from the dead for some exciting new space launch program, but this never materialized. Today, these historic vehicles do not sit in museums or as technical trainers for future aerospace engineers. Through a labyrinth of misfortune, they have found themselves rotting in someone's backyard in Lancaster, California, not far from their long-time home at Edwards Air Force Base.
Here's the fascinating, but tragic story of how the X-34s went from potential harbingers of America's future into space to unwanted backyard junk.
NASA kicked off the program that would lead to the unmanned X-34 in 1
The main goal was to develop a testbed that could help quickly test new technologies for a future low-cost reusable space vehicle. NASA
A major impetus for the program was the desire to lay the groundwork for a more advanced management system for fast track development and testing of advanced systems. space access platform that would be significantly cheaper than the Space Shuttle. NASA has sought to drop the price per pound of payload sent into orbit from $ 10,000 to $ 1,000, according to one official fact sheet.
In addition, a decade earlier, and a tragic accident resulted in the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger and her entire crew, an event that had already prompted by both NASA and the US military to begin exploring alternative means of getting into orbit. After the disaster, NASA only took delivery of one additional Space Shuttle, Endeavor in 1991, specifically to replace Challenger .
Orbital Sciences Corporation subsequently received the contract to build what became known as the X-34. The company rolled out the first vehicle, known as the X-34A-1, on April 30, 1999, and subsequently delivered to the NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, now called the Armstrong Flight Research Center, located within the Edward Air Force Base in California