Sept. 17, 1976
It was named after the Starship Enterprise, from the famed TV show “Star Trek.” Indeed, much of the cast of the show and its creator, Gene Rodenberry, attended the unveiling on this day in 1976. It represented a completely new concept for the nation’s space program: a reusable space orbiter. But Enterprise would never make it to space. Rather, it was the “test shuttle,” built for atmospheric tests only after being launched from a modified Boeing 747 jet. Enterprise had no engines and no functional heat shield, making it incapable of spaceflight. And design changes after Enterprise’s unveiling made it impractical to retrofit for space travel. Constructed primarily in California, Enterprise also spent time at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, where it underwent rigorous ground-vibration testing. It was in Huntsville that, for the first time, all the space shuttle’s key components – the orbiter, external tank and two solid-rocket boosters – were tied together.
Read more at NASA, Wikipedia, and Encyclopedia of Alabama.
This aerial view of the shuttle Enterprise from 1978 shows the shuttle orbiter being hoisted into Marshall’s Dynamic Test Stand for the Mated Vertical Ground Vibration test. The test marked the first time that the entire space shuttle — an orbiter, an external tank and two solid rocket boosters — were mated together. The purpose of the vibration tests was to verify whether the shuttle performed its launch configuration as predicted. (NASA, Wikipedia)
The flight crews of the space shuttle prototype Enterprise and NASA’s modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft gathered in front of the piggyback pair following the final captive-carry flight in the shuttle Approach and Landing Tests on July 26, 1977. The SCA crew is in the yellow suits and the Enterprise crew wear the blue suits. (NASA)
The space shuttle prototype Enterprise rises from NASA’s 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) to begin a powerless glide flight back to NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, on its fourth of the five free flights in the shuttle program’s Approach and Landing Tests (ALT), Oct. 12, 1977. (NASA)
For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.