NASA's X-38 unmanned scale model of a seven-person emergency crew return vehicle lifeboat for the International Space Station (ISS) made its first glide flight over the Mojave Desert, California on 12 March. The prototype lifting body was dropped from a B-52 deployed from Edwards AFB, California, at 23,000ft (7,000m ).

The craft successfully demonstrated the parafoil parachute system and landing skids. More than 20 atmospheric drop tests are planned using three more complex X-38 vehicles, extending glide flight times before a full-scale unmanned prototype is deployed in orbit from the Space Shuttle to demonstrate re-entry and landing in 2000. The X-38 could begin operations at the ISS in 2003 after an interim emergency return capability is provided by two Russian Soyuz TM spacecraft docked on stand-by at the station.

Source: Flight International