In the cold, rarefied upper atmosphere nine miles above California's Mojave Desert, the B-52 mother ship let go of the stub-winged X-15 research plane and swung away. In his cramped cockpit, greying Test Pilot Joseph Walker, 38, flicked a series of switches, and the black needle-nosed X-15's eight rocket chambers roared into fiery life. On a high-altitude research mission for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Walker was not supposed to be trying for a speed record. But he pushed his plane as fast as skill could push it. "Go!Go!" he growled.


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