Space Shuttle Enterprise: History, Interesting Facts & How to Visit
With over 60 years of aerospace history, NASA is one of the longest running and most beloved government organizations in the United States. The men and women have created major innovations and achieved momentous milestones. These, of course, include the Apollo program through to today’s International Space Station missions.
One of the most interesting chapters in U.S. aerospace history is the Space Shuttle Program. From the 1970s through 2013, NASA operated a series of reusable spacecraft to help increase human presence in space. These missions launched hardware like the Hubble space telescope and helped build the I.S.S. Though the last shuttle flight was in 2013, the Shuttle program legacy lives on.
If you want to visit the space shuttles, you’re not alone – and you’re in luck! All of the remaining space shuttles are on display across America. They’re also popular sights if you’re visiting one of the cities where they’re located. In this post we’ll share how and where to see the space shuttle Enterprise, the first space shuttle.
Unfortunately, at the beginning of the year, the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum (where Enterprise space shuttle is on display) will temporarily close from January 4th to late March 2021. You can check for updates here, and we’ll keep this page updated with information about re-opening once it occurs.
This post was originally published in November 2019 and was updated in December 2020.
The History of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program
The Space Shuttle program was initially conceived in the late 1960s. As the Apollo program put men on the moon at exorbitant cost, NASA wanted to create a reusable, lower cost way to send people and cargo to space on a regular basis. Enterprise was the first space shuttle built, but it never flew to space. Instead, Columbia was the first to fly to space in 1981 from Kennedy Space Center. It was the 20th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic spaceflight.
Related: A Definitive History of Space Tourism & Human Spaceflight
Eventually, there were six shuttles in all: Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, Endeavour, and Enterprise. Over the course of 30 years, the shuttles completed 135 missions. Shuttles helped NASA deliver payloads to space, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, and build Skylab and the International Space Station.
Unfortunately, following the Columbia and Challenger accidents in 1986 and 2003, the shuttle program became increasingly cost ineffective and was eventually retired. On July 8, 2011, Atlantis made the last shuttle launch and the Space Shuttle program ended.
The History of the NASA Space Shuttle Enterprise
The NASA Space Shuttle Enterprise was the first orbiter in the Shuttle program. However, as a prototype vehicle for atmospheric flight tests it was not actually capable of orbital flight – it had no engines or heat shielding!
Construction of the Enterprise started in 1974, rolled out in 1976, and made its first flight in 1977. While it was originally intended to be retrofitted for spaceflight as early as 1981, changes in space shuttle design made Enterprise obsolete before she could ever leave earth’s atmosphere.
Here are some interesting facts about the Space Shuttle Enterprise:
- The original name for the Enterprise was Constitution. A letter writing campaign from Star Trek fans persuaded President Ford to change her name to honor the primary ship from that series.
- Enterprise was the first and only Space Shuttle that never went to space.
- The Space Shuttle Enterprise performed critical altitude and stress tests, as well as ‘fit tests’ on shuttle launch-pads.
- The Enterprise made nine test flights attached to a Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, and five test flights under its own power.
- Enterprise planned to make three shuttle missions, starting in 1981.
- Instead of being retrofitted for spaceflight, Enterprise was replaced by a craft that eventually became the shuttle Challenger.
- From 1985 to 2003, Enterprise was on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
- Enterprise made her last flight in 2012. She transferred from the Smithsonian in the Washington D.C. area to New York City for permanent exhibition on the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum.
Now that you have all the facts, here’s how you can visit Enterprise!
Where Can You See the Space Shuttle Enterprise?
In addition to being the first constructed Space Shuttle, Enterprise was also the first shuttle to go on display to the public since it was not used for the Shuttle program itself. From the mid-1980s through the early 2000s, you could see the Enterprise space shuttle at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. This is part of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. However, the Enterprise moved locations in 2012.
Today, the Space Shuttle Enterprise is on permanent exhibition at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City, New York.
Housed in a special structure atop the flight deck of the U.S.S. Intrepid – which is now the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum – Enterprise has found her final public resting place. The Intrepid is permanently moored off the west coast of Manhattan island, and easily accessed for anyone visiting New York City. The museum houses a variety of other aircraft and plenty of history of seafaring in the United States. It’s ideal for visitors who are interested in that aspect of aerospace too.
Visiting the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum to See the Shuttle Endeavour
It’s easy to find the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum in New York City. However, it helps to know some basic information if you’re planning a trip to see the Enterprise space shuttle there.
Remember: the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum will be closed from early January to late March 2021! Check here for updates.
Tickets & Admission to the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum
The Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum is open from 10am to 5pm or 6pm depending on the day, and tickets are $33 for adults and $24 for children 5-12 years old. There are also guided tours and VIP tours available. However, none focus exclusively on the Enterprise so they’re better suited for fans of sea, air, and space history in general.
As the Enterprise is permanently on display, there are no special dates or tickets that you need to visit. There are several other exhibits in the Space Shuttle Pavilion that are also included.
How to Access the NASA Space Shuttle Enterprise
The Enterprise is located on the top deck – the flight deck – of the U.S.S. Intrepid, all the way at the stern of the ship. To reach the Enterprise space shuttle, you’ll need to climb or take the elevator to the flight deck, then work your way to that part of the ship. Along the way you’ll pass a number of other interesting aircraft parked on the flight deck too.
Once you enter the Space Shuttle Pavilion, you’ll go through a hallway that introduces the history of the Space Shuttle program in greater detail. You’ll then emerge into the main hall, where the Enterprise is the centerpiece on display. You can walk all the way around and under the Enterprise, as well as up onto a viewing platform at the front of the aircraft.
There are no timed entries to the Enterprise space shuttle, so you can stay as long as you like before exiting through the gift shop back onto the Intrepid flight deck.
Have other questions about seeing the space shuttle Enterprise at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum? Let us know in the comments!
Featured photo credit: Guy Percival
Thank you for this! Lots of wonderful information I cannot wait to go!!
Glad to help, Cindy! I hope you can visit soon once it’s reopen!