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Space shuttle Enterprise makes public debut at Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York

The space shuttle Enterprise at the Intrepid Sea,

The space shuttle Enterprise at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan. (July 18, 2012) Credit: Craig Ruttle

Now you can stand nose-to-nose with the 150,000-pound space shuttle Enterprise, whose scientific and engineering design broke atmospheric barriers that revolutionized space travel and exploration.

The Enterprise is the first NASA shuttle, a prototype orbiter that glided through the air but never reached space, and it debuts Thursday to the public at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan, where it will be a permanent exhibit.

The Enterprise is inside a huge plastic bubble pavilion. Visitors will feel the shuttle's immensity when standing beneath its belly and alongside its wingspan.

The Enterprise's aluminum airframe and fiberglass features were built in the 1970s. It made its first glided landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California in 1977.

The historic landing proved that a shuttle could glide without power in the atmosphere and land like an airplane, enabling it to fly again in space.

"Stand nose-to-nose with her and get a personal experience with the shuttle up front and real," said Jessica Williams, the museum's curator of history.

"This is a real connection to science and technology that will hopefully inspire young people to study science and space travel," said Williams, adding that NASA's shuttle program created "a democratic idea that going to space is not just for astronauts."

"The shuttle program has opened space travel to more Americans, including women and scientists. It's given us a broader idea on who can go into space," she said.

For museum curator Eric Boehm, who is charged with aviation and aircraft restoration, he sees the Enterprise "as a work of art -- a sculpture" of precision design and craftsmanship "in its nuts and bolts."

"The construction is impeccable," he said Wednesday, standing below the Enterprise's delta-shaped wings.

The inside of the Enterprise will not be open to the public. It's computers and electronic instruments were removed and used in other shuttle vessels, Boehm said.

"It's an empty space, like a cave. You can fit a Greyhound bus in there and still have more space," he said.

The Enterprise is 137 feet long, with its tail cone. Its wingspan is 78 feet and its tail is 57 feet high from the ground to its tip.

The exhibit includes various videos, including the day the Enterprise reached its New York City home via the Hudson River, with a glimpse of Ground Zero.

Other films include the Enterprise's historic flight in 1977. A narrative explains how the Enterprise was crucial in the investigation on how the space shuttle Columbia exploded during re-entry, killing its crew in 2003.

Plans for a permanent building to house the Enterprise is in the works, Boehm said, adding he hopes to mount the Enterprise in its famous tilted position when it was piggybacked on modified jumbo jets to make its test flights.


If you go


General admission to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum ranges from $6 for children ages 3-6 to $24 for adults. There is an additional admission to view the Enterprise: From $4 for children to $6 for adults. Tickets can be purchased online.

Summer museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. On the weekends and holidays, the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The museum is on the west side of Manhattan on Pier 86, 12th Avenue at 46th Street.

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