On September 17th of 1976, the world got its first look at the first Space Shuttle, as NASA unveiled its hot new creation at an Air Force base in Palmdale, California. The ship was called Enterprise, after many hundred thousand die hard Star Trek fans (pop culturally known as trekkies) wrote to President Gerald Ford, requesting the name change. The shuttle's former name was Constitution.
On hand at the ceremony were all the NASA CEOs, along with most of the cast of the immortal TV show called Star Trek. Cast members who joined the festivities included Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock), deForest Kelly (Dr. McCoy), Nichelle Nichols (Lieutenant Uhura), James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott), George Takei (Mr. Sulu), and Walter Koenig (Ensign Chekov). Even Gene Roddenbury, the show's creator, was there. The only major cast member missing the fun was William Shatner (Captain James T. Kirk).
This first space shuttle was not really meant for space travel. It was more of a prototype than anything else. For instance, the exterior covering was made of fiberglass, which would not sufficiently withstand the conditions in space. Also, the ship was never outfitted with the equipment needed for it to be able to orbit the earth. For instance, a lack of two main engines. However, Enterprise was the precursor to other space shuttles of similar design. And the Enterprise space shuttle would fly free when it was released from a Boeing 747 jet, then it would glide in for a safe, soft landing back at Edwards Air Force base.
Over the following year, NASA engineers put the Enterprise through a series of flight tests and ground tests, to demonstrate its airworthiness and landing capabilities. Five space ready orbiters were subsequently developed: The Columbia in 1979, the Challenger in 1982, the Discovery in 1983, the Atlantis in 1985, and the Endeavor in 1991. Early space shuttles carried equipment into space and ran various scientific experiments. Later, manned space shuttles traveled into space to maintain and repair the Hubble Space Telescope, and also to build and maintain the International Space Station (ISS).
The Columbia space shuttle exploded near the end of its 28th journey, in a reentry accident that happened on February 1st of 2003. The Challenger space shuttle blew up just over a minute after take-off in January of 1986. In both cases, all seven people onboard were killed.
Between 1978 and 1985, the Enterprise was taken around the country to assorted NASA space centers, where it served as a useful practice tool. In 1983, the Enterprise toured the world as a museum quality showpiece. Stops included Canada, France, Italy, Germany, England, and the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans.
In 1985, the Enterprise was donated to the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian will soon donate the Enterprise space shuttle to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City, in order to make room for its new exhibit – the Discovery space shuttle.
These days, all space shuttles are on their way to museums.