Maybe we should ask Toby Ziegler about the military shuttle


Today, The New York Times sort of scoffed at its own report, 25 years ago, about the National Aero-Space Plane, which was to boldly go where no man had gone before, spacecraftwise:

In his 1986 State of the Union address, President Ronald Reagan promised “a new Orient Express that could, by the end of the next decade, take off from Dulles Airport and accelerate up to 25 times the speed of sound, attaining low-earth orbit or flying to Tokyo within two hours.”

On Oct. 3, 1989, an article in Science Times, “Designing a Plane for the Leap of Space (and Back),” reported frenetic activity at NASA and the Defense Department.

“Scientists and engineers are making rapid progress in developing technologies needed to build a 17,000-mile-an-hour ‘space plane’ that could escape earth’s gravity and circle the globe in 90 minutes,” the article began….

But the whole project was abandoned in 1994, and experts say it remains technologically beyond our reach.

Or does it?

Just this week, the U.S. Air Force’s unmanned X-37B space plane returned to Earth after a mission lasting almost two years.

Or, at least, they say it was unmanned. And they’re not telling us much more about it. Apparently, our government is still capable of keeping some secrets, even in the Edward Snowden era. This leads to speculation:

Theorists speculate the spacecraft is a space bomber, a spy plane against such targets as the Chinese space station, or merely an experiment as the government states, according to a Popular Mechanics story in 2012.

Maybe we could get former White House aide Toby Ziegler to tell us what he knows about it…

4 thoughts on “Maybe we should ask Toby Ziegler about the military shuttle

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    On Wikipedia, the Toby Ziegler bio features two roughly equal subheadings: “At the White House,” and “Military shuttle leak storyline.”

    It saddens me that he would be so prominently remembered for the ignominious way he left public life.

    And yeah, I know he’s fictional. Makes me sad anyway. I’m fond of Toby…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      By the way, “Toby himself” denies that he would ever have done such a thing:

      Schiff had publicly praised the show’s writers—and Sorkin in particular—for the richness of the characters in the series. However, during the show’s final season, Schiff said he felt let down by the writers as some of his episodes were cut “purely on a financial decision”. He was particularly critical of the military shuttle leak storyline, which saw his character indicted for leaking classified information. “Toby would never in 10 million years have betrayed the President in that fashion,” said Schiff. “Even if he had, there would have been seven episodes’ worth of fights before he did it.” He justified the story to himself by reasoning that Toby was covering for somebody else.

  2. Doug Ross

    “Just this week, the U.S. Air Force’s unmanned X-37B space plane returned to Earth after a mission lasting almost two years.”

    That should be good news to people who can’t get healthcare. I’m sure it was a bare bones budget… couple billion here and there. Much more important than fixing our national highway system too. Why worry about millions of automobiles when you can send a plane into space to.. uh.. um.. prove you can send a plane into space?

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    The time when the original NYT story ran is one that I associate with a lot of gee-whiz predictions about technology and the near future. Others DID pan out, big-time.

    In either the late 80s or early 90s, Bob Boyd of the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau took a year or so off from his usual topics to do a special series on how radically our lives were about to change as new technologies became available.

    Of the things he wrote about that DID become a part of our lives, the one I remember being most impressed by was GPS technology. I would have been pretty excited if I’d known that I would carry around a device myself that not only used GPS, but gave me interactive satellite images of any place in the world, as well as current traffic conditions on the roads I was looking at.

    Not to mention all the other amazing stuff my iPhone does. Hey, I would have been excited just at the idea that I would have a mobile phone in the future…

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