The Shuttle's Unlikely Predecessor
The M2-F1, the unlikely forefather to the shuttle, was the world's first manned lifting body. Made of wood with an internal framework of steel tubes and no wings, the M-21 looked more like a bathtub sitting on a tricycle than an aircraft.
Conceived by NASA engineers at the Ames Research Center, the lifting body was intended as an alternative to a capsule spacecraft, which returned to Earth dangling under a parachute. A lifting body was not a conventional winged aircraft, but rather, used air flowing over its fuselage to generate lift. This design allowed it to land on a runway like a conventional airplane.
Because the M2-F1 was unpowered, a tow vehicle was required. The solution: a 1963 Pontiac convertible, which when modified, was capable of reaching 110 miles per hour with the M2-F1 in tow.
For more on the craft's history, visit The M2-F1: 'Look Ma! No Wings!'.
Image Credit: NASA