But soon an aura of national mission and blazing glamour, complete with Life magazine covers, was upon Project Mercury. Not only was that, the performance of the Mercury astronauts, whether one regarded them as pilots or guinea pigs, exemplary. By 1962 the objections and taunts of Edwards’ great rocket pilots scarcely even registered any longer. Ambitious pilots like John Young were determined to make it not to the old Olympus, Edwards Air Force Base, but to the new one, NASA’s Manned Spacecraft. Center in Houston. Even the Air Force attached paramount importance to producing astronauts for NASA.
Young was selected for the second group of astronauts, which included Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, Pete Conrad, and Frank Borman. The entire emphasis of American manned spaceflight was now upon the goal of reaching the moon. In 1963 the Air Force’s X-20 program was canceled, even though Boeing had begun manufacture of the first ship. As something of a sop, the Air Force was given the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, which would involve astronauts going back and forth to space stations in two-man capsules of the sort used in Gemini. That scheme was canceled in 1969—the year Young, on his third spaceflight, the Apollo 10 mission, orbited the moon. NASA now somewhat reluctantly absorbed the Manned Orbiting Laboratory trainees as the seventh group of astronauts. One was Robert Crippen, who had come into the program from the Navy.
It was not until 1969, after the success of the Apollo moon project that NASA returned to the task of developing a rational and affordable system for flight in earth orbit. Which is to say, the X-20 project, reborn as the space shuttle? The shuttle would be launched by a more powerful and sophisticated version of Titan III. Like the X-20 it would have two solid-fuel boosters. The ship itself would be larger than the X-20 and look more like a conventional aircraft. But, in effect, the shuttle would be the X-20 project resumed, updated, and loaded with the technical bijoux developed in Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab.