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Shuttle Enterprise takes off for New York -- and a new home

April 27, 2012|By Rene Lynch
  • The space shuttle Enterprise is attached to NASA's modified 747 at Washington Dulles International Airport as it awaits its journey to New York.
The space shuttle Enterprise is attached to NASA's modified 747 at… (Bill Ingalls / NASA )

It's wheels-up for the space shuttle Enterprise.

The NASA shuttle is getting the ultimate piggy-back ride to its new home in New York City this morning, setting the stage for a dramatic flyover of the world's most famous skyline.

The Enterprise was affixed atop a specially modified 747 that took off moments ago from Dulles International Airport near Washington, headed for John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

PHOTOS: The space shuttle program, 1972-2011

There will be plenty of photo ops before it lands: The aircraft will fly near a variety of landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, although the exact flight plan has not been revealed. NASA plans to live Tweet the event.

The Big Apple has been waiting for this moment all week. The Enterprise was originally supposed to arrive Monday, and then Wednesday. But bad weather scuttled those plans.

New York's newest tourist attraction was named after the fictional Starship Enterprise from "Star Trek." (Among those Tweeting about the Enterprise's arrival Friday morning? Leonard Nimoy, who, of course, played Spock on "Star Trek.") The Enterprise is one of four NASA shuttles that are being moved to permanent museum homes at various places throughout the United States, after a fierce political battle over which cities would get one.

Technically, the Enterprise is not a real space shuttle. It was a prototype and a test orbiter 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 is ultimately headed for its new retirement home at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum this summer in Manhattan. Last week, the space shuttle Discovery was delivered to Dulles, en route to its final resting place at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va., where it replaces the Enterprise.

The California Science Center in Los Angeles will get the space shuttle Endeavour, and Atlantis will go to the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

After the Enterprise is delivered to Kennedy airport, it will be moved via tugboat up the Hudson River  to the Intrepid museum.

Its arrival there will involve another spectacle: The Enterprise will be hoisted via crane to the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid. The 900-foot-long carrier was pressed into duty during World War II and the Vietnam War and also served as a recovery vessel for NASA's space program. The ship, which was retired in 1974, is the crown jewel of the museum; it's also on the National Park Service’s National Historic Landmark register.

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