Thursday marks the beginning of a new mission for the U.S. space shuttle Enterprise, as it goes on public display at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City.
The nation's first space shuttle is housed in an inflatable dome, suspended about 300 centimeters in the air above the deck of the refurbished World War II-era aircraft carrier, allowing visitors a chance to walk under underneath the huge vehicle, which boasts a 23-meter wingspan.
"The Enterprise allows us to really offer such a beauty and such a piece of NASA history to a region that never really had something like this before," said Susan Marenoff-Zausner, Intrepid Museum president. "So they can come up close and personal. And, the way that we developed it, you can walk under it, you can walk and see really from the top view, or from the wing-level view. You can come nose-to-nose with the shuttle. So for our visitors, for our students, we're just excited to have what is a sexy platform, let's say, to make these studies enjoyable and have them understand how important it is."
Enterprise was built in 1976 as a test vehicle to demonstrate the spacecraft's ability to fly and land like an airplane, paving the way for the five shuttles that eventually flew into space during the shuttle's 30-year history.
"Actually I must say it's rare that you can get this close to a space shuttle, even when I was with flying and with NASA," noted former astronaut Marco Runco, Jr. "[I] went down to the Kennedy Space Center, in the processing facilities, sometimes they wouldn't even let us get this close to them. So this is a treat. And I'm hoping that it's an inspiration for folks to connect with the history and the legacy and then take that history and legacy to new heights for the future."
Enterprise was flown to New York in April on top of a 747 jumbo jet, thrilling residents as it flew over the Manhattan skyline and past the Statue of Liberty on its way to John F. Kennedy's International Airport. The shuttle was transported to the museum by barge last month.
Enterprise was housed at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. before it was moved to New York and replaced by the space shuttle Discovery. The space shuttle Endeavour is now displayed at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, while space shuttle Atlantis is on display at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The other two space shuttles were destroyed during flight, Challenger in 1986, and Columbia in 2003.