Even the most jaded New Yorkers had to stop and stare skyward Friday morning as the retiring NASA space shuttle Enterprise soared over the Statue of Liberty and circled the world’s most famous skyline before landing safely at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The aircraft, en route to its final resting spot at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan, was affixed atop a specially modified 747 that had taken off from Dulles International Airport near Washington earlier in the day. Area residents – cameras held high – tumbled out onto sidewalks, scrambled up on rooftops and lined the Hudson River in the hopes of getting a glimpse.
The Enterprise is one of four NASA shuttles going into retirement throughout the United States after a fierce political battle over which cities would get one.
Houston was annoyed that it was passed over for a shuttle despite its rich ties to the nation’s space program. But New York landed its shuttle in part because it lacked such a pedigree: A shuttle in the Big Apple can bring awareness about space exploration to a whole new audience.
Technically, the Enterprise is not a real space shuttle. It was a prototype that never flew into space. Still, the Enterprise was critical to the tests necessary to verify orbiter aerodynamics and handling characteristics in preparation for flights that followed with space shuttle Columbia.
The Enterprise will be moved via tugboat up the Hudson River to the museum later this summer then hoisted via crane to the deck of the retired aircraft carrier Intrepid.
Last week, the space shuttle Discovery was delivered to Dulles to join the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.