Enterprise Shuttle


READY FOR ITS CLOSE-UP


Though it’s crucial to NASA for tests,

the Enterprize goes where no space

shuttle has gone before.


TREKKIES, TAKE NOTE.

The Enterprise, the first space shuttle ever

built and the only one with a name from a

sci-fi TV show became the first to go on

permanent public display at an unveiling

this past fall at the National Air and Space

Museum’s Steven F Udvar-I lazy Center

near Dulles International Airport outside

Washington, D.C.


Built in 1976, Enterprise was to be named Constitution until “Star Trek” fans successfully campaigned to rename it after the show’s signature star-ship. NASA’S Enterprise, alas, was a prototype shuttle that never ventured into space. Instead, it underwent numerous launchpad and landing tests —initially going aloft in Califor-nia in 1976 while piggyback on a Boeing 747 jumbo jet—and cleared the way for

the 1981 maiden shuttle mission in space, the 14-day flight of Columbia. NASA would launch four other shuttle vehicles, and to date has completed 113 missions, including the 1990 launch of the Hubble Space Telescope.


NASA donated Enterprise to the Smithsonian in 1985. But the 122-foot-long, 57-foot-high shuttle couldn’t be housed at the museum’s storage facility in Maryland, says Roger Launius, the museum’s curator of space history. “There was no place to land it and it was too big to truck. ” So it sat on the tarmac at Dulles Airport for more than a year before it was moved into a temporary hangar, where it remained for more than a decade . Four specialists, assisted by staff and volunteers, took seven months to restore the vessel to something approaching its original glory


Even in retirement, Enterprise is useful to NASA. After Columbia disintegrated on February i, 2003, while reentering Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members, NASA officials turned to Enterprise to test some theories about what caused the accident. They removed pieces of the wings as well as landing-bay doors, says Launius. Studies of the materials helped investigators establish that Columbia’s heat shield and left wing had been damaged by pieces of foam insulation that broke loose shortly after launch.


Last October NASA announced that the shuttle program, in suspension since the Columbia accident, will resume sometime between May 12 and June 3 with the launch of the shuttle Discovery. Space-travel advocates welcome that news. The Enterprise and the other shuttles have been essential, Launius says, to our becom-

ing “a multi-planetary species.”


----Mary Collins



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