Technology: A Place in Space

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Sprinting along the fringes of space, 21 miles above the earth, NASA Test Pilot Joe Walker last week gunned his rocket-powered X-15 to the greatest speed any airplane has ever achieved—an imagination-defying 3.920 m.p.h. In the nose of the X-15, a grapefruit-sized electronic wizard familiarly known as "the Q-ball" gauged the basic critical factors—direction, sideslip, friction—and told Joe Walker that he could safely press for the record. Said Walker, with affection: "The Q-ball is a go-no-go item. Only if she checks O.K. do we go."

Off Cape Canaveral last week, the...

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