As the retired Shuttle fleet continue their Transition and Retirement (T&R) processing, efforts are being focused on Northern Virginia, as preparations are made on shuttle Enterprise for her final flight to the Intrepid Air and Space Museum. The move to New York will allow Discovery to take Enterprise’s place at the Smithsonian.
Enterprise will once again serve as the fleet pathfinder, following in the footsteps of her initial retirement to the Smithsonian Institute, paving the way for her space-bound sisters.
While Enterprise was originally intended to fly into space, she ultimately had her wings clipped in 1978, after data was gathered during her successful Approach and Landing Tests and use during horizontal vibration testing. Enterprise then provided much needed vertical vibration data, coupled with a full shuttle stack at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC).
While the Kennedy Space Center and Edwards Air Force Base have permanent Mate/Demate Devices for Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) operations, other sites require a stiff legged derrick to remove or place an orbiter on the back of the 747 transport.
Enterprise pioneered the use of off site SCA operations using the derrick in 1978, ahead of a world tour which took in the Louisiana World Exposition, the 1983 Paris Air show, and Stansted Airport near London – becoming the only orbiter to touch foreign soil.
While the stiff-legged derrick is no longer available, NASA will use a combination of cranes and sling to create a mobile mate-demate apparatus for retirement activities. The apparatus will use 80 and 250 ton cranes to lift the front and aft of the orbiter.
Using heavy duty lift fixture with a rectangular stabilizing feature, the orbiter’s aft will require an additional lifting sling – stabilized with guide wires. The cranes will be airlifted from KSC to the museum sites, due to the lack of local equipment.
According to L2 documentation, the equipment is due to ship to the Smithsonian Dulles location starting mid March, Discovery will then follow on April 17th.
Enterprise will then begin her journey once the sling equipment is disassembled and transported to JFK International Airport. Enterprise will be ready to offload about mid-May, allowing the sling equipment to head to Los Angeles International airport to support Endeavour’s arrival.
From JFK, Enterprise will then travel to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Complex via barge just as she did to reach the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans. While the museum intends to create a permanent Space Museum as her final resting place, Enterprise will be well protected in a temporary climate controlled tent on the carrier’s flight deck.
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As a result of lesson’s learned from Enterprise’s role as a display article, a climate controlled display is a requirement.
Enterprise’s role as fleet pathfinder continued throughout the early 1980’s, used to validate shuttle handling at Kennedy Space Center’s LC-39A complex, as well as the west coast shuttle pad site SLC-6 at Vandenberg Air force base in California.
She ultimately became the only shuttle to be stacked at the Californian site, following the facility’s mothballing after the Challenger tragedy.
Enterprise would suffer a more silent fate, as she returned to the Kennedy Space Center where she was first displayed outside in the brutal Florida weather beside a Saturn V and the VAB, all while watching her sisters fly off Pad 39A into the heavens.
Enterprise left KSC on November 18, 1985 for the what would be the last time and flew the four hours atop of the SCA to Dulles International Airport near Washington DC. NASA would use Enterprise at Dulles to research potential safety measures, including a test of a barricade landing system similar to that used on aircraft carriers such as the USS Intrepid.
She was then handed over to the Smithsonian Institute. However, the facility could not fit the massive orbiter inside the Air and Space Museum located at the Washington Mall.
The vehicle was then stored without any environmental control until she was finally moved to the comforts of the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Space Hangar in Nov 2003.
Enterprise continued in her role to support the active shuttle fleet, loaning her fiberglass leading edge panels to support Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) testing.
Some of her hardware still show the visible scars of testing.
With the need for a detailed investigation of her structure and airworthiness, NASA sent a team to investigate the venerable orbiter in March 2010, and found that she was in much better condition than expected, with only 138 documented discrepancies logged.
Significant corrosion was found in the Forward SCA attach point, forward mid and aft floors, the wing skins and the body flap. However, all of the areas were deemed repairable.
With work to prepare Enterprise picking up steam in Dulles, the youngest orbiter, Endeavour, was used to evaluate handling methods related to the installation of the Approach and Landing Test Article, or ALTA pods for Enterprise.
The pods had been used on Enterprise as substitutes for real OMS pods during flight tests and ferry operations, and were retained by NASA for use to help transport the active orbiters when the hardware was removed for processing work.
Once Enterprise’s ALTA pods are reinstalled, tailcone serial number 1 will be attached to her aft – a large element of hardware which required modifications to fit Enterprise’s unique tail configuration – which lacks the drag chute now common throughout the fleet.
Enterprise will fly to her final resting place on her constant companion, the original Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft 905NA. 905NA was the 747 that carried her to altitude on the Approach and Landing Tests and transported her across the world from Alabama, to Florida, California, Louisiana, Paris, and Dulles.
With the recent retirement of the other Shuttle Carrier aircraft 911NA, the duo will make one final flight together finally finishing their long support of the shuttle program together.
To read about the orbiters – from birth, processing, every single mission, through to retirement, click here for the links:
(Images: Via NASA, Smithsonian and L2 Historical content – many thousands of super hi-res image stock available on L2’s new Photo Section)
(L2 and NSF are continuing to follow the orbiters through their transitional period. To join L2, click here: http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/l2/)