THIS USED TO BE THE FUTURE: "Hermes"

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Back in 1978, I read in Starlog or Future magazine an announcement that the French Space Agency were building their own space shuttle, called "Hermes." Development began the next year, and ran until 1994 or so, when the project was finally abandoned. In that time, it never flew, never even hit a finalized design. It remains fascinating, however.

In essence, it was simple: a mini-shuttle atop a big bohonkin' rocket, not unlike a slightly scaled up version of the "DynaSoar" project from the '60s. ( http://www.republibot.com/content/used-be-future-proto-space-shuttles ) There were actually two simultaneous development projects, the Hermes itself (The name an in joke, "Hermes" and "Mercury" are the same god), and the Arianne V rocket to launch it. Here's what it would have looked like:

The project sprawled out of control almost instantly, and just when they were finally making progress, the Challenger Disaster caused a fundamental re-think of the entire project, from which it never recovered.

Wiki overview: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermes_(spaceplane)

Vastly more detailed info and pictures at Astronautix: http://www.astronautix.com/craft/hermes.htm

It was a neat little project, but over-ambitious. Ultimately the Arianne V became the dominant French launch vehicle, but the irony is that the French decided to show off by building an "Economical" Space Shuttle that damn near bankrupted their space agency, when they could have easily put a person in space in two years or less if they'd simply decided to build a standard capsule.

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