Shuttle Enterprise arrives NYC
Unfavorable weather conditions had already delayed the mission four days. With low dark clouds and high winds, conditions were still uncertain for the Friday April 27, 2012 final flight of the Space Shuttle Enterprise. Once NASA declared the mission “A-GO”, we were constantly checking the ferry flight’s status and progress with real time updates on NASA’s Twitter site. This however would not be Enterprise’s first trip to the Big Apple. In 1983, atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), the Enterprise returning home from the Paris Air Show flew over New York City.
Since November 2004, the Enterprise had been on display in The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Museum’s James S. McDonnell Space Hangar. The week prior, the Shuttle Discovery was brought to the Chantilly, VA facility to replace the Enterprise. The Enterprise was NASA's first shuttle. Never traveling into space, the prototype orbiter was instead used to demonstrate that a launched spacecraft could return from space, fly through the atmosphere and land like a glider. Now it was being brought back to NYC mounted on top of the space agency's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) - a modified Boeing 747 jumbo jetliner. Enterprise would soon be seen by thousands flying around NYC landmarks, just as the Space Shuttle Discovery had done the week before flying over Washington, DC on its way to the Udvar-Hazy Museum.
At 9:30am, and on time, the SCA with its mated Enterprise departed Virginia’s Dulles International Airport. There was anxious anticipation along the Atlantic coastal route. School children in New Jersey were permitted outside, hoping to catch a sighting. A friend of mine saw the SCA pass overhead from atop the Barnegat Lighthouse on Long Beach Island. From our vantage point at Liberty State Park, NJ, across from the Statute of Liberty and back-dropped by the New York City skyline, we were positioned to see the SCA accompanied by a NASA T-38 chase photo jet make two passes. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) coordinated flight commenced with an approach to NYC south of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge; flying north up the Hudson River. As the SCA and T-38 passed 1,500 feet over our heads, the crowd applauded in appreciation. We were witnessing an historical moment - the end of era. At that moment one couldn’t help but reflect on NASA’s decades of numerous achievements and countless commitments by so many.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created in October 1958 with its Project Mercury’s objective to place a manned spacecraft into earth orbit. As the SCA approached the George Washington Bridge, climbing 3,000 feet, we reminisced on President John F. Kennedy’s May 1961 speech asking the nation to commit itself to achieving the goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth. It was July 1969 when Project Apollo’s eleventh mission would land and safely return men from the lunar surface. However, the project was not without setbacks; like the January 1967 Apollo-Saturn launch pad flash fire that asphyxiated the three astronauts onboard. But American lives would also be enriched by the space program’s many contributions like; Tang, the scientific calculator and electronic miniaturization to name a few.
The SCA’s flight plans continued north up the Hudson passing the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum at Pier 86. The Intrepid museum had invited the public to view the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft’s low level pass from its flight deck. Prior to becoming a museum in 1982, The USS Intrepid served as the primary recovery ship for two of NASA's early manned spaceflights; Scott Carpenter in the Mercury 7 in May 1962 and the first two-man crew of Gus Grissom and John Young in Gemini 3 in March 1965. Upon reaching the Tappen Zee Bridge, the SCA and T-38 chase jet made a left hand u-turn returning south back down the Hudson, over our heads to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge before descending to 1,000ft. Again we were reminded of other NASA programs like the 1973 launch of the orbital workshop Skylab. Flying behind us, the pair passed over Newark en-route to a fly-by of Teterboro airport before making a right turn towards LaGuardia. From there we could see the two fly through the buildings over the East River, flying east for about twenty miles for a flyover of the FAA’s New York TRACON radar facility in Westbury. This would be our last glimpse of the shuttle in flight; a program that began on April 12, 1981 with the launching of the first STS, Columbia. The Space Shuttle program would go on to help build the International Space Station, but not without sacrifices. On January 28, 1986 the Shuttle Challenger was lost with seven souls onboard and again on February 1, 2003 when seven lives were lost in the Columbia disaster. Atlantis (STS-135) would be the final shuttle voyage into space, closing out the program. The SCA flyover was complete at about 11:30 a.m. with a right turn and landing at John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport’s runway 31L where 1,500 VIP guests were invited to see the landing. The historic flight lasted about 45 minutes – another proud American achievement.
NASA will bring to JFK the two large cranes that joined the two crafts at Dulles. Once de-mated from the Boeing 747, Enterprise will be placed in a temporary hangar for several weeks. In June, the Enterprise will be towed up the Hudson River on a specially configured barge to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum where it will eventually reside on the museum's flight deck in a climate controlled Space Shuttle Pavilion. This temporary exhibit will be open to the public in July. Over the next few years, the Intrepid Museum plans to build a Science and Technology Center which will become Enterprise's permanent home.
For more information on displays of NASA's retired space shuttles, visit: http://www.collectspace.com/shuttles
Story and Photos by: Daniel O. Myers