Eight Rejected Shuttle Designs: From Space Zeppelins to Flying Boxes to Cool Deltas

The space shuttle isn't the most graceful design ever (although it can look great in such pictures as the first one here): it's a bit boxy, more akin to an 18-wheeler than a Ferrari.

But the idea of a reusable space vehicle presents unique challenges, and NASA had plenty of ideas on how to accomplish it.

Not all were so great. Some would have looked a lot cooler. And some weren't so much rejected designs as they were ideas that people came up with long before the first Apollo mission went up.

So, as the Atlantis continues unpacking supplies and loading space station garbage in the glorious last mission of the shuttle program, here are eight alternative ways the shuttle could have looked.

8. Wernher Von Braun's 1953 concept Tom Lehrer famously sang of the man who led Nazi Germany's rocket program, "'Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department,' says Wernher von Braun." But as this design clearly shows, Von Braun gave some thought to rockets and how they might come down. At least once he got on the American side.

7. The space zeppelin All aboard for ComfortSleeper luxury! We're positive if they did a cutaway version of this, it would show be-hatted "space stewardesses" serving coffee to astronauts casually reading ticker-tape printouts.

6. Now this is a Ferrari This is a design any stick-and-rudder test pilot or daydreaming kid could get behind. We're not sure how effective it would be hauling huge satellites for deployment or the Raffaello cargo bin, however.

5. Two shuttles in one We're not going to call this a living example of government spending run amok, but we're sure someone would. A shuttle and a mini-shuttle -- if they had just gone further, we could have had shuttle nesting dolls as a design.

We think this is what it was supposed to look like in action:

4. We don't need no rudder to get home If you thought the current shuttle wasn't boxy enough, then this one's for you. It looks like it could use a "Humpin' to Please" logo on the side.

2. This looks....unsafe For some reason, the multi-stage aspect of this booster just makes it look fragile. The shuttle itself is sportier, though.

1. "It's like, how much more black could this be? and the answer is none. None more black." Much more bad-ass looking. The Oakland Raiders of shuttle design.

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