Space Shuttle Enterprise
NASA chose to name its five operational space shuttles – Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour – after great sailing ships and research vessels from the past. But, did you know that there's actually a sixth space shuttle that is named after a fictional starship from the 22nd century?
Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek cast with the Enterprise Space Shuttle
That would be the space shuttle Enterprise, a prototype orbiter used for tests in the Earth's atmosphere that never flew in space. The story of how it was named is a fascinating one.
The vehicle was originally named Constitution and was set to be unveiled on Sept. 17, 1976, which was the 189th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. However, fans of the long-canceled television show, "Star Trek," wrote in urging that it be renamed after the starship Enterprise. President Gerald Ford, who had been a sailor in World War II aboard the USS Monterey that served with the carrier USS Enterprise, liked the name and overrode objections from NASA officials.
So, on Constitution Day, the shuttle Enterprise was rolled out at Rockwell International's production facility in Palmdale, Calif. "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry and cast members Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, James Doohan, and Walter Koenig were on hand for the ceremony.
Enterprise first underwent ground vibration tests, which produced data that were used to create theoretic models of flight tests. Those models would later be compared with actual flight data.
On Aug. 19, 1977, the space shuttle Enterprise flew independently for the first time. Flown aloft atop a modified Boeing 747, the orbiter separated from the carrier aircraft, and astronauts Fred Haise and Gordon Fullerton guided it to an unpowered touchdown at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The flight simulated the last two minutes of the shuttle’s return from space and verified flight controls and handling characteristics. Four additional glide tests followed.
Enterprise Space Shuttle in Free Flight
Two years later, Enterprise was mated to an external tank and two solid rocket boosters on Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for a series of tests of the launch configuration.
NASA originally intended to upgrade the space shuttle Enterprise for orbital flights. However, a series of design changes resulting from the testing process rendered the ship overweight and too expensive to retrofit. NASA elected to build a new shuttle named Challenger.
Following the tragic loss of Challenger in 1986, the space agency again considered upgrading Enterprise for spaceflight. However, NASA felt it would be better to construct a new shuttle, Endeavour, using structural spares built for the program.
After its retirement in 1985, the space shuttle Enterprise was stored in a hangar at Dulles International Airport in Virginia. It went on display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia when the facility opened in December 2003.
With the end of the shuttle program, Discovery will be moved to the Udvar-Hazy Center while Enterprise will go on display at the Intrepid Air, Sea, and Space Museum in New York City.
Links for Space Shuttle Enterprise