Skip to main content

Len Cormier papers

Identifier: MSP 207
The Len Cormier papers (1944-2006; 7.85 cubic feet) document Cormier’s work as a commercial space flight pioneer. The majority of the papers include drawings/designs, blueprints, and papers related to engineer Cormier’s work to design commercial reusable launch vehicles and other orbital vehicles.  Types of materials include blueprints, engineering designs, maps, a model (Space Van), papers, posters, reports, topographical maps and VHS tapes.


  • 1944-2006
  • Other: Majority of material found in 1980-1988
  • Other: Date acquired: 03/01/2016


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. The collection is stored offsite; 24 hours notice is required to access the collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Purdue University per deed of gift.


7.85 Cubic Feet

1 mss. boxes, 1 c.f. box, 7 large flat boxes other_unmapped


Engineering designs, blueprints, topographical maps, posters, and papers related to Len Cormier's work to design reusable launch vehicles including the Space Van. Includes a scale model of the Space Van.

Biographical / Historical

Leonard N. Cormier was born in Boston in 1926. He joined the Navy in 1943 and served as a Naval Aviation Cadet, a fighter pilot, and executive officer of an anti-submarine warfare patron squadron. He joined the Navy Reserves in 1947 and achieved the rank of lieutenant commander in 1958. He retired from the reserves in 1966.

Cormier received a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1952. He was involved in space programs most of his career. He worked at NASA at the beginning of his career as well as the National Academy of Sciences in Washington. As a staffer at the Academy in 1957, he attended the International Geophysical Year proceedings when the Soviets surprised the world with the launch of Sputnik. This event left a great impression on him, and it was then that he decided to pursue better access to space through affordable, reusable space vehicles.

In the 1960s, he was project engineer for space transportation systems at the Los Angeles Division of the former North American Aviation Incorporated. He also spent two years as a project engineer and program manager for fighter systems at the former North American Rockwell. Cormier was also a private entrepreneur, and in 1967 he formed a company called TranSpace (later known as Third Millenium Inc.). This marked the beginning of his work on a commercial approach to spaceflight.

In 1978 Cormier left Rockwell International, where he had worked on the Space Shuttle. He believed the Space Shuttle was overdesigned, and that a launch vehicle could be designed at a fraction of the cost. Over the years he worked to bring his idea to fruition through his company, PanAero Incorporated. He created a conceptual design for the Space Van 2011, which was a two-stage horizontal takeoff and landing craft he believed could service the International Space Station and do other orbital missions much cheaper than the cost of a space shuttle or Soyuz. Cormier struggled to obtain sufficient investers for his Space Van, which underwent numerous revisions over the years. One of his last attempts was in 2003 by trying to win the X Prize, a $10 million award offered to the first private team to fly a manned rocket into space. He competed against 20 teams for the prize with his SabreRocket model but lost.

He was a charter member of the Department of Transportation’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee. Cormier passed away on June 16, 2008.

Sources: Lamb, Yvonne Shinhoster. “Len Cormier; Designed Lower-Cost Space Van.” The Washington Post, 16 July, 2008, p. unknown. (obituary) and Len Cormier. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2016, Accessed 25 August 2016.

Arrangement Note

The papers are organized into three series:

Series 1. Blueprints, 1977-1990 (3.35 cubic feet). This series contains numerous blueprints for Cormier’s reusable space launch vehicles: “Space Van,” M5 (Mach) Turbojet, and “Windjammer,” along with others from throughout his career. 

Materials in the series are arranged by type of launch vehicle and/or as miscellaneous, then chronologically within each group.

Series 2. Posters and Topographical Maps, 1949-1974 (1.0 cubic feet).  Contained within this series are posters from Cormier’s personal collection, including several related to space and the Lunar X Prize, which promotes private investment in space exploration and technology.  There are also 10 topographical maps from the United States Department of the Interior, Geographical Survey, “15 Min, Series (Topographic).” The majority of these are from the 1950s.

Series 3. Miscellaneous Items – Model, Report, VHS Tapes, Printed Material, and Computer (3.5 cubic feet). This last series contains various type of materials. There is a model of one of Cormier’s space launch vehicles, a computer which contains some of Cormier’s working files (yet to be processed), VHS tape, “Around Space: PanAero X-Prize Team,” (Host, Dr. Kent Miller, and Len Cormier, 2002). Printed material includes, two reports, one entitled, “Proposal to Supply Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Demonstrations in response to NASA/Johnson Space Center Announcement COTS-01-01,” and a packet of information related to the history of the American aircraft industry.

Source of Acquisition

Donated by David Latzko and Anne Greenglass.

Existence and Location of Originals

multi-part note content

Related Materials

United States Patent 20090173830 A1: Rocket-powered kite plane for gentle climb and acceleration to extreme staging altitudes

Although the patent application was filed in 2006, it was granted in 2009, a year after Cormier’s death.

Processing Information

Whenever possible, original order of the materials has been retained.  All materials have been housed in acid-free folders and acid-free boxes.
Len Cormier papers
Mary A. Sego
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Repository

504 W. State Street
West Lafayette Indiana 47907 United States