Thursday, March 18, 2010
Enterprise Returns to the Final Frontier
The cast of "Star Trek" attends the rollout of the orbiter Enterprise from Rockwell's Palmdale manufacturing facility, September 19, 1976.
Space.com reports that the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum is determining whether the Shuttle orbiter
Enterprise can be safely moved from its current display in the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport.
The move anticipates the Smithsonian's receipt of one of the three currently operational orbiters once the Shuttle program ends, scheduled for late 2010.
It never reached space, but Enterprise has travelled more widely on Planet Earth than any of its sibling orbiters. It was used for landing tests at Edwards Air Force Base, and mating tests at Vandenberg AFB, Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville and Kennedy Space Center.
Enterprise travelled the world as an ambassador for the U.S. space program. I have a poster here in my office of Enterprise aboard the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft at Stansted Airport in England in 1983.
At various times, thought was given to making Enterprise a fully operational orbiter. It would have been the second orbiter after Columbia, but a refit was considered too expensive. If you check the tail numbers, Enterprise was OV-101 and Columbia was OV-102. Challenger was OV-99 because its airframe started out as a high-fidelity structural test article. According to NASA.gov:
Rockwell's original $2.6 billion contract had authorized the building of a pair of static-test articles (MPTA-098 and STA-099) and two initial flight-test vehicles (OV-101 and OV-102). A decision in 1978 not to modify Enterprise from her Approach and Landing Test (ALT) configuration would have left Columbia as the only operational orbiter vehicle so on 1/29/79 NASA awarded Rockwell a supplemental contract to convert Challenger (STA-099) from a test vehicle into a space-rated Orbiter (OV-099).
After Challenger was destroyed in January 1986, consideration was given to refitting Enterprise but it was decided to build Endeavour instead.
Shuttle Enterprise on display at the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport.
After the Smithsonian receives one of the three operational orbiters, the vehicle will be displayed at the Udvar-Hazy Center, meaning Enterprise will need to go elsewhere. The Space.com article reports that testing is underway to determine if that's feasible.
If Enterprise can be moved, the question is to where.
My personal choice would be the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum at Edwards AFB, run by the Flight Test Historical Foundation. (I'm a member.) The problem is that the museum has very limited funding, so unless the vehicle is donated I don't know where they would display Enterprise.
Below are some photos of Enterprise from its storied career.
Enterprise on launch pad SLC-6 at Vandenberg AFB.
Enterprise on the test stand at Marshall Space Flight Center.
Enterprise on launch pad 39-A at Kennedy Space Center.
September 26, 1977 — Enterprise boldly goes where no orbiter has gone before.
UPDATE March 22, 2010 — Florida Today published today an article about the Enterprise display at the Udvar-Hazy Center.
Click the above image to watch video of an Enterprise Approach and Landing Test.