From my earliest memories as a child, I remember wanting to be an astronaut. I still do, but that’s another story. One of my first models I ever built as a young boy was the x-15 rocket plane. It was about the coolest thing I had ever seen.
Before there was a space shuttle, there was the X-15 “Rocket Plane”. Much of what was learned on vehicles like this was applied to the Space Shuttle program. Wikipedia states “The altitudes attained by the X-15 aircraft do not match that of Alan Shepard’s 1961 NASA space capsule flight nor subsequent NASA space capsules and space shuttle flights. However, the X-15 flights did reign supreme among rocket-powered aircraft until the second spaceflight of Space Ship One in 2004.“
Eight different pilots actually received their astronaut wings, since they met the USAF spaceflight criteria by exceeding the altitude of 50 miles (80 km), thus qualifying the pilots for astronaut status. This predecessor to the Space Shuttle is the X-15A-1, one of the three ships built. It flew 82 powered flights and now rests in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.
Side note; the capsule on the floor below is the Command Module from Apollo 11.