Monday, April 16, 2012

A farewell to Star Trek's real life Shuttle Enterprise

It was six years after the final airing of the original Star Trek on television and the trekkie movement was alive and well. After a successful run in syndication, Paramount Pictures had announced and began script production on the franchise's first major film titled "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." The victory for show creator Gene Rodenberry and trek fans alike would be one of many in the Star Trek universe.

Fast forward less than a year to Rockwell International's facilities in Palmdale, California. Preparations to unveil to the public the first NASA Space Shuttle were underway. A formal dedication for Shuttle Constitution would be held on September 17th, 1976, on Constitution day.

Designated OV-101 (Orbiter Vehicle 101), Constitution was built to perform test flights within Earth's atmosphere. Designed without physical engines, a heat shield and many systems required for space flight, the space vehicle would never leave Earth, making it the only space shuttle never to fly in space.

While a full campaign of testing was fully underway, another campaign 3000 miles away would define Constitution forever. Momentum was building around a write-in campaign to request a name change of Shuttle Constitution. Without any official mention by The White House or President Ford's staff, over 400,000 Star Trek fans were petitioning the President to reconsider the name Constitution for America's first space shuttle. Their request was simple - call it Enterprise.

President Ford, during World War II, was stationed on the aircraft carrier Monterey, which coincidentally had served with the USS Enterprise. Stating that he was "partial to the name," he overrode the name Constitution and officially dubbed OV-101 Enterprise.

On Constitution Day, 1976, special guests along with NASA officials and President Ford dedicated the first in the fleet. Those special guests were from a not so distant television series. Joining NASA Administrator James Fletcher were Star Trek USS Enterprise crew members DeForest Kelley (Dr. "Bones" McCoy), George Takei (Mr. Sulu), James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott), Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura), Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock), Gene Rodenberry (Series Creator), and Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Checkov).
Approach & Landing Tests
Less than five months after the formal dedication, Enterprise would take her maiden flight atop a Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft for a series of unmanned and unpowered tests to determine structural loads, handling, and monitoring of newly built ground systems. It was also an opportunity to test the ferry flight characteristics of the mated 747 and the shuttle itself. On August 12, 1977 Enterprise flew on its own for the first time with Commander Fred W. Haise, Jr. (former Apollo 13 Lunar Module Pilot) and Pilot C. Gordon Fullerton at the controls. The subsequent test flights would serve as the model for future shuttle landings after orbiting missions.
Retirement & Relocation
When all flight tests were completed, Enterprise was retired from duty. The vehicle had certain components removed which could be reused on on future shuttle missions. Enterprise then was sent on an international tour visiting the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Canada, and within the United States, California, Alabama and Louisiana. Enterprise was sent via barge to Louisiana for display during the 1984 World's Fair. While in California it was used as a fit-check to the never-used shuttle launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

On November 18, 1985 Enterprise was ferried to Washington, D.C., where it became property of the Smithsonian Institution and sat in storage until the opening of the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar at the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center in November of 2004.

On April 12, 2011, NASA officially announced the winning facilities that will permanently display the retired shuttle fleet. Enterprise, which was on display at the Udvar-Hazy center would be replaced by Shuttle Discovery and sent to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City.

Enterprise will depart Dulles International Airport and arrive at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport on April 23rd, 2012 marking the first phase of relocation to the shuttle's new home. In June, Enterprise will move by barge to the Intrepid, going past such iconic landmarks including the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center.

"When the Enterprise touches down at JFK [Airport], it will signify the first step of its final journey to educate and inspire millions of people around the world about the groundbreaking work of the NASA space program," said U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D – New York). "The Enterprise will immediately become an iconic and must-see destination in New York that will further contribute to our reputation as the greatest city in the world."

When the barge trip along the Hudson River is completed, Enterprise will be raised by crane to a place near the deck of the USS Intrepid, where it will be on public display in a temporary climate controlled facility until a permanent facility can be constructed.