Retrofuturist Flashback: 70s Shuttle Design

Up, up and away! © Bettmann/CORBIS

I love looking at old space shuttle concepts. You get to glimpse the raw ingenuity that went into a truly remarkable vehicle. I mean, what were the space shuttles but modern pyramids? Of course as Neil deGrasse Tyson reminds us, that's part of the problem.

But let's talk about this design. We're looking at a proposed North American Rockwell space shuttle craft proposed to haul crew members and 50,000-pound cargoes into orbit. The delta wings and high tails are particularly noteworthy,

Shuttle system "booster" (in background) carries the orbiter to fringes of space, then drops away for landing on conventional runway for reuse. Shuttle craft and booster are shown here in North American Rockwell artist's concept. It reminds me a lot of the XB-70 Valkyrie.

In the background we see the shuttle's manned "booster" craft dropping away and returning for landing -- a design element that's certainly more in keeping with Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo.

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.