Okay, so they won’t be as cool (yet) as the armored chap pictured above, but the Marine Corps has begun serious development on an orbital space plane that would be able to deliver combat troops anywhere in the world in under two hours:
After decades of unsuccessful development, military space planes are finally getting some respect. On April 19 the U.S. Air Force plans to launch the X-37B, an unmanned space plane that will circle the planet a classified number of times before making an autonomous landing. (Popular Mechanics profiled the effort as the magazine’s cover story in April.) The idea of a pop-up reconnaissance platform, to be used if a satellite is not available or is disabled, is an importantrationale for the Air Force’s project.
The Marines’ space plane takes the Corps’ slogan of “first to fight” to the extreme: It could transport a squad of Marine riflemen to anyplace on earth within 2 hours, and then extract them after their mission is complete. Though the goal is appealing—imagine delivering well-armed Marines at hypersonic speed to a suspected Osama bin Laden hideout or besieged embassy—the concept seemed outlandish to many when it was first proposed.
Of course, the idea of orbital insertion of combat troops and drop-ships or space planes isn’t a new one, but it always fascinates me how these ideas seem to start bearing fruit much sooner than science fiction usually assumes.
(via Confederate Yankee, who has thoughts on other applications)