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lockheed blackhorse X-55 by bagera3005 lockheed blackhorse X-55 by bagera3005
Lockheed black horse X-55

Manned Spaceflight Engineer Program


The USAF and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) of the DoD participated in the development of the Space Shuttle from its official inception in 1969. To save money, the shuttle was intended to serve as the United States' national launch system for all civilian, military, and classified payloads.[1][2][3] The DoD influenced key aspects of the shuttle's design such as the size of its cargo bay.[3][4] The USAF in the 1970s hoped to buy up to three shuttles[3][5] and fly them with all-military crews. As with the earlier X-20 Dyna-Soar and Manned Orbiting Laboratory, budget concerns ended the "Blue Shuttle" program,[5] but the USAF gained the use of up to one third of all launches[1] and the right to requisition the next available launch for high-priority payloads.[5] It renovated an existing launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to send shuttles into polar orbits[4] and established the Manned Spaceflight Control Squadron at NASA Mission Control in Houston. The squadron's personnel would monitor military shuttle flights, ahead of a future mission control center in Colorado that would monitor an expected 12 to 14 military shuttle flights each year.[1]


Many active-duty USAF and other American military personnel have served (about 60% of the total in 1985),[6] and continue to serve, as NASA astronauts. Although with the end of "Blue Shuttle" DoD no longer needed its own shuttle pilots and mission specialists,[5] it still desired specially-trained military astronauts to handle classified payloads on the about 100 or more shuttle flights it expected to use.[1] While NASA offered to train the DoD astronauts the military wanted to control their training, as DoD astronauts who went to NASA rarely returned.[5]

In 1979, the first 13 Manned Spaceflight Engineers (MSEs) were selected,[7] chosen from all services[4] and based at Los Angeles Air Force Base

* Frank J. Casserino
* Jeffrey E. Detroye
* Michael A. Hamel
* Terry A. Higbee
* Daryl J. Joseph
* Malcolm W. Lydon
* Gary E. Payton (flew on STS-51-C, 1985)
* Jerry J. Rij
* Paul A. Sefchek
* Eric E. Sundberg
* David M. Vidrine, USN (only non-USAF)[5]
* John B. Watterson
* Keith C. Wright

In 1982, another 14 were selected,[9] chosen only from the USAF:

* James B. Armor, Jr.
* Michael W. Booen
* Livingston L. Holder, Jr.
* Larry D. James
* Charles E. Jones
* Maureen C. LaComb
* Michael R. Mantz
* Randy T. Odle
* William A. Pailes (flew on STS-51-J, 1985)
* Craig A. Puz
* Katherine E. Sparks Roberts
* Jess M. Sponable
* William D. Thompson
* Glenn S. Yeakel

In 1985, five more were selected

* Joseph J. Caretto
* Robert B. Crombie
* Frank M. DeArmond
* David P. Staib, Jr.
* Teresa M. Stevens


The MSE program faced internal and external challenges. NASA was reluctant to assign MSEs to its flights given their lack of NASA training and the need for spots for other payload specialists.[5] Internal USAF debates on the usefulness of manned spaceflight to the DoD[4] caused uncertainty for MSE personnel. New regulations in 1984 that strongly encouraged USAF personnel to move to another assignment after four years caused many early MSEs to transfer out of the program,[5] with only nine active by late 1985.[6]


Even before the loss of Challenger in January 1986, ongoing launch delays caused the USAF and NRO to reduce their dependence on the shuttle to launch DoD payloads by, starting in 1984, purchasing the Titan IV unmanned rocket.[3][5] Challenger accelerated these plans[4] but several NRO payloads only the shuttle could launch were grounded until it flew again,[3] a dilemma NRO had feared as early as the mid-1970s.[2]

With DoD's return to unmanned rockets and less need for dedicated military astronauts, the MSE program ended in 1988 with only two MSEs having flown into space. The Houston squadron was dissolved, construction of the Colorado center ended, and the California launch site used for unmanned rockets.[1] Only active duty-military NASA astronauts flew on subsequent missions with DoD payloads, the only exceptions being former Marine Story Musgrave and former DoD scientist Kathryn C. Thornton on STS-33.[4]

Shuttle missions with classified payloads

* STS-4, 1982 (non-DoD flight with classified DoD payload)
* STS-51-C, 1985 (first all-DoD flight)
* STS-51-J, 1985
* STS-27, 1988
* STS-28, 1989
* STS-33, 1989
* STS-36, 1990
* STS-38, 1990
* STS-39, 1991 (first unclassified DoD flight; only one payload was classified)[4]
* STS-44, 1991 (the payload was unclassified before launch)[4]
* STS-53, 1992

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Dumbrarere Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2013
Is this inspired by the SSTO from Ace Combat 5? I see a huge similarity!
bagera3005 Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
no its not
slowdog294 Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2011  Professional General Artist

arenafighter Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2011
Awesome! i almost thought i heard the 'Captain Scarlet' Theme as i looked @ the Picture!
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