Space Shuttle Enterprise Makes Public Debut in NYC

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(photo by Caitlyn Kim/WNYC)

(Soterios Johnson, New York, NY, WNYC) The new space shuttle pavilion at New York's Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum opens to the public on Thursday. It will offer visitors an up-close and personal view of the space shuttle Enterprise, as well as exhibits on NASA's current missions on earth and space science, research on improving aeronautics and the rockets destined to take humans to explore the solar system.

See a slideshow of pictures from the new exhibit here.

Workers were putting the finishing touches on the pavilion, as opening day approached.

"All the graphics have been installed," said Eric Boehm, the museum's curator of aviation.  "Right now, we're installing a lot of video monitors and all those shows will be test-run here the next couple days. You know, just getting everything tweaked."

The opening of the Intrepid Museum's Space Shuttle pavilion will be celebrated by a five day long Space Fest, featuring a free concert, special hands-on robotics and astronomy displays, and opportunities to meet former and current astronauts, many of whom have ties to the New York City area.

According to Boehm, visitors to the Enterprise will have much better access to this shuttle compared to the other shuttles on display at other museums.

"We've kind of propped her up a little higher," Boehm said.  "The temporary structure kind of surrounds the shuttle, so really the best views will be right underneath and right around the sides of her.  So, the public will get all around."

The shuttle and its exhibits are currently housed in a huge white inflatable structure on the Intrepid's flight deck, where it will remain for the next couple of years as the museum plans and builds a separate permanent structure to house the Enterprise.  Boehm says when that new Space Center is completed, it will be a monument to the shuttle program, NASA and New York City.

Enterprise was NASA's first space shuttle, but it never actually went into space. It was built as a prototype to perform test flights and landings.  Nonetheless, the museum considers it an important acquisition.

"We look at the Enterprise as really the test vehicle that made the rest all possible, that made all the space exploration possible with the space shuttle program,” said Matt Woods, the Intrepid Museum's senior vice president of operations.  “Without Enterprise, you never would have gotten further with the program.”

The arrival of Enterprise in New York was a year in the making. It had been on display at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center outside Washington D.C., where it was the collection's centerpiece.  On April 27,  Enterprise was transported to New York's Kennedy Airport on the back of NASA's specially-modified Boeing 747 jetliner.

Before landing, the plane performed a dramatic low-altitude fly-over of its new hometown, passing by landmarks including the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center and the Intrepid itself.  Then, in June, the shuttle was taken by barge to the Intrepid Museum, where it was hoisted on the museum's flight deck by crane.

With the space shuttle program's retirement in 2011, all of the surviving shuttles found homes at museums across the country.  The Discovery’s new home is the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum outside nation's capitol. Shuttle Endeavor is in Los Angeles at the California Science Center.  The Atlantis is at Florida's Kennedy Space Center.