December 10, 2006 1:47pm CST
Although never officially confirmed, Aurora was also developed by the Lockheed Skunk Works during the 1980s. The space plane was designed to operate either in a manned or unmanned mode. Its Cold War mission was to penetrate the anti-missile defenses surrounding Moscow at Mach 8+ speeds and deliver nuclear bombs onto multiple targets. Aurora was described as a very large diamond-shaped vehicle and most likely powered by a hybrid jet-rocket engine technology. The craft could attain speeds in excess of 8,000 miles an hour and fly at altitudes of over 50 miles. Aurora was armed with over a dozen nuclear warheads. The reason it was developed to be both manned and unmanned was because of its dual missions ö peacetime reconnaissance and wartime nuclear strike vehicle. During times of peace, the Aurora carried manned crews to supervise surveillance. During wartime, the very powerful Aurora accelerated and changed directions at speeds that would crush a human under the high G forces. Aurora's nuclear strike mission was intended to be without a pilot because a human simply would not survive the ride. However, Aurora had two great drawbacks: its price tag and its mission. Aurora reportedly was retired from service in the late 1990s due to budget constraints. Each vehicle reportedly cost over $2 billion. The price of Aurora operations could not be justified when the Cold War ended.