The Joy of Museums

Finding Beauty & Meaning in Museums

Space Shuttle Enterprise

Intrepid, Sea, Air & Space Museum - Joy of Museums 2

The Space Shuttle “Enterprise” was the first orbiter of the Space Shuttle system. It was built in 1976 for NASA as part of the Space Shuttle program to perform atmospheric test flights after being launched from a modified Boeing 747. It was constructed without engines or a functional heat shield, and was therefore not capable of spaceflight.

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The Space Shuttle system was composed of an orbiter launched with two reusable solid rocket boosters and a disposable external fuel tank. It was capable of carrying up to eight astronauts and up to 50,000 lb (23,000 kg) of payload into low Earth orbit (LEO). When its mission was complete, the orbiter would re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and land like a glider.

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The Enterprise as the first experimental orbiter was a high-altitude glider, launched from the back of a specially modified Boeing 747, only for initial atmospheric landing tests (ALT). Enterprise’s first test flight was in 1977, five years after the Shuttle program was initiated. This led to the launch of the first space-worthy shuttle Columbia in 1981. The Space Shuttle program finished with its last mission, flown by Atlantis, in 2011.

“Enterprise”, was originally to be named “Constitution” to honor of the Constitution of the United States. However, “Star Trek” fans started a large write-in campaign urging the White House to name the first of the Space Shuttle after the original starship “USS Enterprise” from the “Star Trek” TV series.  Then-president Gerald Ford got tens of thousands of these letters. Following this campaign, President Gerald Ford directed NASA officials to change the name, saying he was “partial to the name” Enterprise.

The Shuttle Enterprise - GPN-2000-001363

Star Trek creator and cast attending Enterprise’s rollout ceremony in 1976

Essential Facts:

  • Name:                     Space Shuttle Enterprise
  • Named after:         USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) (Star Trek starship)
  • Status:                     Retired, on display at Intrepid Museum, New York City
  • Built:                       1976
  • Built by:                  Rockwell International
  • First flight:             1977
  • Last flight:              2012
  • Time in space:       Never flew in space
  • Museum:                Intrepid, Sea, Air & Space Museum

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“We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
― Benjamin Franklin

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Photo Credit: By GordonMakryllos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By NASA (Great Images in NASA Description) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons