The offer to read and review X-15 Diary: The Story of America’s First Space Ship by the late Richard Tregaskis was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Although I was born just after the first astronauts landed on the Moon, and president Kennedy’s mission was accomplished, I really enjoyed everything about space ships and rockets as a young boy. The X-15 Diary was written in 1961 after the hand-over of the X-15 rocket plane to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its record flights. The X-15 was built of titanium and a chrome-nickel alloy. At that time it was the fastest plane ever built, launched in-air after a mating flight with a B-52 bomber. Formally a research project, this space ship that could land on huge strips in dry lake beds, was first tested in 1959 and proved its value for astronauts and hardware in the subsequential Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and even the Space Shuttle programs.
Tregaskis got access to the inner circle at developers from the US Air Force, North American Aviation, and NASA to witness the many struggles to overcome technical problems with plumbing, explosive fuels, telemeters, and high g-force levels. Tregaskis doesn’t tell a happy story with a ditto ending. Brave test pilots like Scott Crossfield, upcoming talent Neil Armstrong, and the space war with Russians being ahead of the Americans all play a role. The book highlights the countless delays, accidents, and excitement. Pilots making jokes while flying over 3,000 miles per hour and so concentrated on their checklists that they don’t have time to look around in outer space.
The X-15 research ‘bird’, the difficulties getting the XLR-99 rocket motor ready, and the parallel Mercury projects are highlighted, as well as the talent of German rocket genius Wernher von Braun. In the end, the Space Shuttle Program would largely benefit from findings done in the X-15 project, but that was way beyond the time span the author is covering.
The 1961 book has been edited for an ebook version published by Open Road Media, and is featuring images from the X-15 planes and pilots, an illustrated biography of Richard Tregaskis including rare images from the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming.
About the author
Richard Tregaskis (1916-1973) was a well-known war correspondent during both WWII & the Vietnam War. He is perhaps best remembered as the author of ‘Guadalcanal Diary‘, which is considered to be a classic of war reportage.