Hi, I’m Mike Massimino, astronaut and senior space adviser
here at the Intrepid Museum.
And today we’re going to be taking a look at our space shuttle, the Enterprise.
The Enterprise was the testing vehicle for the early space shuttle program.
It was the prototype and the proof of concept that a spacecraft could return
from orbit, land safely on a runway and then be reused.
Enterprise was used to test the engineering, technology, and the procedures
that would take astronauts into space for the following 30 years.
Construction began in 1974 and was completed in 1976.
NASA conducted many tests on new and experimental systems along the way.
The big question on the minds of engineers was can it craft this
large glide back into Earth’s atmosphere and land on a runway
instead of smaller capsules splashing down in the ocean.
Of all of the important testing the enterprise did, the approach and landing tests
were the most important.
NASA used Enterprise to conduct two main types of approach and landing tests.
The first was testing the shuttle carrier aircraft,
or the SCA with the shuttle attached to it.
The second was free flight testing, where the Enterprise would be launched off
the back of the SCA and glide to land at Edwards
Air Force Base in California, on its own.
It was also used to test the launching facilities at
the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The original plan back in the 1970s was to retrofit
the Enterprise for spaceflight after the flight tests were completed.
However, NASA had learned so much from the testing that the design
for follow on shuttles would be changed significantly.
The primary difference was that the subsequent shuttles were lighter in weight,
making them able to fly higher, carry more cargo, and flight to orbits
with a greater inclination from the equator.
All essential for missions like repairing Hubble or building
the International Space Station.
Enterprise with retired to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
in 1986, but was brought out of retirement in 2003
after the Columbia accident, which claimed the lives of seven astronauts.
NASA tested the impact of insulation foam on one of the wings of Enterprise to
see if Columbia had been damaged in a similar way.
And you can still see the results of those tests today.
In June of 2012, Enterprise was moved to its current home here on the Intrepid.
The Enterprise may have never gone all the way to space, but it was critically
important to the history and to the future of spaceflight.
As a test vehicle. Enterprise paved the way for the rest
of the space shuttle program and inspired
a generation to boldly go where no one had gone before.
For more behind the scenes videos, visit IntrepidMuseum.org