- Before Discovery came to the Museum, Space Shuttle Enterprise was on display.
- Enterprise was the first space shuttle orbiter ever built. It was used a test vehicle and did not fly in space.
- In 2012, Discovery took its final flight to the Udvar-Hazy Center. Enterprise is now on display at the the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City.
The National Air and Space Museum is home to Space Shuttle Discovery, a magnificent spacecraft that flew almost 150 million miles in space during its 39 missions. The shuttle stands proudly at our Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, as a testament to all that we have accomplished in space on both a national and an international scale.
But Discovery was not the only space shuttle to have made its home at the National Air and Space Museum.
Space Shuttle Enterprise, the first space shuttle orbiter ever built, was once displayed where Discovery is today. Despite both being part of the Space Shuttle program, the two served very different purposes and tell very different stories.
My own experience with these two space shuttles is unique. As a digital video archiving intern at the National Air and Space Museum, I handle and organize video media that continues to celebrate Discovery’s accomplishments in space, years after its retirement. I remember the moment that my fellow interns and I first walked up to Discovery’s nose, marveling at the size and scope of the incredible orbiter. Seeing the reaction of my fellow interns’ first time “meeting” the space shuttle reminded me of my first time seeing one. As much admiration and pride as I have for Discovery, this is not my first space shuttle.
The two space shuttles were then brought nose to nose – an incredible scene and a true celebration of the Space Shuttle program from start to finish.
Space Shuttle Enterprise tells its own story, one of space showmanship and particular Star Trek significance. Enterprise now finds its home on the flight deck of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, an aircraft carrier transformed into a New York City museum that welcomes over a million visitors each year. My affinity for the Space Shuttle program begins there, during my time as public programs intern; many of the events I helped coordinate were located right under Enterprise’s wings.
Even as the only space shuttle never flown in space, Enterprise accomplished much in its early years. Originally meant to be named Space Shuttle Constitution, the orbiter instead took the namesake of the famed Star Trek starship USS Enterprise (NCC-1701), after President Ford reportedly received thousands of petition signatures from avid Star Trek fans across the country. As a test vehicle, Enterprise played a crucial role in the future engineering of space shuttles.
Space Shuttle Enterprise had been in the Smithsonian’s care since 1985, when NASA transferred it to the Museum’s collection. However, Enterprise’s role in space exploration did not end following its retirement. NASA continued to visit Enterprise to perform periodic inspections and occasional testing of its wiring, brakes, and portions of the wings.
It wasn’t until November 2003 that Enterprise was first on public view. Following nine months of restoration to clean, paint, and repair woodpecker damage to the exterior, Enterprise was ready to be unveiled at our Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
Before the last launches of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, the National Air and Space Museum appealed to NASA for a space shuttle that had flown in space. Specifically, the Museum requested Discovery, the oldest, most-flown orbiter in the fleet. The Smithsonian offered to return Enterprise to NASA for placement elsewhere and hoped for a friendly exchange.
Following confirmation of Discovery’s new place at the National Air and Space Museum, NASA began preparations for Enterprise’s departure to New York City for its new home at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. NASA sent a crew to our hangar to ensure that the shuttle was prepared for its flight on the Boeing 747.
The restoration crew pushed Enterprise out of the hangar just before Discovery was towed in from Dulles International Airport. The two space shuttles were then brought nose to nose – an incredible scene and a true celebration of the Space Shuttle program from start to finish.
While Enterprise and Discovery tell very different stories, each space shuttle continues to inspire future generations of astronauts and engineers, just as they each inspired me to explore new worlds and continue to make museum artifacts (like Discovery) more accessible for all.
See photos from Discovery’s final trip to the National Air and Space Museum (plus over 200 space shuttle artifacts, several digital exhibits, virtual tours, and more!) online through Google Arts & Culture.