In the turbulent era of 1960s Cold War confrontations, Moon race headlines, and war in southeast Asia, eight test pilots quietly flew the radical X-15 rocket plane out of the atmosphere and into the record books, earning astronaut status. One of those pilots, NASA research pilot Bill Dana, is seen here next to the X-15 #3 rocket-powered aircraft after a flight. Formerly an aerospace research pilot at Dryden, Dana flew the F-15 HiDEC research aircraft and the Advanced Fighter Technology Integration/F-16 aircraft and later became chief engineer at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center. Dana flew the X-15 research airplane 16 times, reaching a top speed of 3,897 miles per hour and a peak altitude of 310,000 feet (almost 59 miles high).
Three of the early astronaut test pilots never received official recognition as astronauts because only the military had astronaut wings to confer on their pilots at that time. That was rectified on Aug. 23, 2005, when Dana and family members representing deceased pilots John B. McKay and Joseph A. Walker, received civilian astronaut wings acknowledging their flights above 50 miles high.
Image Credit: NASA