Science: Deep Blue Yonder

Even to a seasoned veteran of the clouds like Air Force Major Robert White, 36, it was exhilarating up there, higher than man had ever flown before.

His voice crackled in the earphones of earthbound observers at Edwards Air Force Base in California's sprawling, sundrenched Mojave Desert. "This is fantastic," White cried. "This is really fantastic up here." At that moment, he was an estimated 131,000 ft. above the earth, nearly 25 miles. He was flying a rocket-powered X-15, North American's Black Dart, which only eight days before had set another record—traveling at...

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