The technologies for the reentry and recovery from space might change over time, but the challenge remains one of the most important and vexing in the rigorous efforts to bring spacecraft and their crews and cargo home successfully. Returning to Earth after a flight into space is a fundamental challenge, and contributions from the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in aerodynamics, thermal protection, guidance and control, stability, propulsion, and landing systems have proven critical to the success of the human space flight and other space programs. Without this base of fundamental and applied research, the capability to fly into space would not exist.
This book relates in a chronological manner the way in which NASA has approached the challenge of reentering the atmosphere after a space mission and the technologies associated with safely dealing with the friction of this encounter and the methods used for landing safely on Earth. This history seeks to tell this complex story in a compelling, sophisticated, and technically sound manner for an audience that understands little about the evolution of flight technology. Bits and pieces of this history exist in other publications, but often overlooked is the critical role these concepts played in making a safe return to Earth possible. Moreover, the challenges, mysteries, and outcomes that these programs’ members wrestled with offer object lessons in how earlier generations of engineers sought optimal solutions and made tradeoffs.