In 1996, while I was Administrator of NASA, I started a program called Hyper-X and challenged the NASA team to build an air-breathing scramjet vehicle that could fly at hypersonic speed – that is, at a speed of Mach 5 or faster.
Mach 5, as we aerospace folk think of it, is 5x the speed of sound.
–– It’s also 3836.35 miles per hour
–– A commercial flight from LAX to JFK is 2475 miles (~39 minutes at Mach 5)
So, Mach 5 is fast.
The NASA team at the time enthusiastically accepted the challenge and we knew it would be possible. However, at that point in 1996, the U.S. had not flown anything at hypersonic speed for about three decades.
Yet in only eight years (short timeframe in gov’t aerospace world), the team built a radically new hypersonics aircraft called the X-43A powered by an air breathing scramjet engine (go to the web and look it up).
The NASA team hit a world record of Mach 9.68.
To this day, at Mach 9.68, the X-43A holds the world record for scramjet powered aircraft.
Decades later I am still waiting for someone in the U.S. to beat the X-43A’s record.
If you are an established aerospace veteran, a young entrepreneur or someone in between and you’re working on normalizing aircraft that flies at hypersonic speed, I salute you and know that I am supporting you.
I really do believe that with all our engineering ingenuity in our country, we can produce transformative planes that can fly to any city on the earth in just a few hours (if we wish, and I do wish!). And I do believe such an effort would bring people together in many ways instead of separating us.
Dan Goldin is the longest serving NASA Administrator and Founder and CEO of Cold Canyon AI. He is a member of the Center for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue’s Advisory Board.