NASA appears to be determined to change the status quo, though, as indicated during the forum, sponsored by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and attended by two Washington lawmakers, acting as chairman and member of the committee.
"There was a period where engine technology had just sort of stagnated — a point where all materials technology was going along at about the same pace," Curtis M. Bedke, retired US Air Force Major General and senior non-resident fellow at Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, said. "There just wasn't much happening. But suddenly, in all sorts of areas that apply to aerospace, things are happening."
As opposed to the supersonic speeds of the Concorde, the hypersonic barrier — objects moving above five times the speed of sound — was notably attained in 1967, by test pilot William J. "Pete" Knight flying a modified X-15 rocket aircraft to almost seven times the speed of sound, a record for manned flight that stands today.
Since that time, progress in area of hypersonic engineering has been slow, according to Bedke, but recent innovation in engines and materials has sparked new progress.
"It is inevitable that hypersonic technologies are going to happen," Bedke said. "It is not inevitable that we are going to be the country to do it first."
That concern is shared by Greg Autrey in Forbes magazine, who also attended the forum. While Autrey admits being excited, he regrets the recent stall in many of the Agency's aeronautic and space programs, including the retirement of the Space Shuttle, leaving the "political and economic future of humankind in the solar system… to the designs of Russian and Chinese despots."
According to Bedke, for the US to become the leader in the race to control access to space, top brass must persevere with an understanding that technological innovation is sometimes mired in slow periods.
"We're going to have to put our minds to it, and we're going to have to stop the history of fits and starts, of throwing money at a big program, achieving a wild success, and then having no follow-up. Or throwing a lot of money at too big a program, taking too giant a bite, failing miserably and then deciding hypersonics isn't going anywhere. Neither of those must be allowed to happen in the coming years," Bedke said.
Most hypersonic air research is currently based on warfare needs, not travel, but low-noise hypersonic jet travel could be instituted in the not-too-distant future.