This Day in Tech History

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765px-Enterprise_free_flight

September 17, 1976: NASA Unveils Enterprise

NASA rolls out the first Space Shuttle, Enterprise, from its assembly facility to a waiting crowd. Included in the crowd was a delegation of actors from the Star Trek TV series.

On this day in September NASA publicly unveils the Enterprise during a ceremony in Palmdale, California. Development of the aircraft-like spacecraft cost almost $10 billion and took nearly a decade. In 1977, the Enterprise became the first space shuttle to fly freely when it was lifted to a height of 25,000 feet by a Boeing 747 airplane and then released, gliding back to Edwards Air Force Base on its own accord.

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The Space Shuttle Enterprise (NASA Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV-101) was built for NASA as part of the Space Shuttle program to perform test flights in the atmosphere. It was constructed without engines or a functional heat shield, and was therefore not capable of spaceflight. On September 17, 1976, the first full scale prototype was completed.

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Originally, Enterprise had been intended to be refitted for orbital flight, which would have made it the second space shuttle to fly after Columbia. However, during the construction of Columbia, details of the final design changed, particularly with regard to the weight of the fuselage and wings.

Enterprise on display with IRBMs, ICBMs, and ABM equipment at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

Enterprise on display with IRBMs, ICBMs, and ABM equipment at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

Construction began on Enterprise on June 4, 1974. It was originally planned to be named Constitution and unveiled on Constitution Day, September 17, 1976. A letter-writing campaign by Trekkies to President Gerald Ford asked that the orbiter be named after the Starship Enterprise, featured on the television show Star Trek. Although Ford did not mention the campaign, the president, saying he was “partial to the name” Enterprise, directed NASA officials to change the name.

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, and most of the original series cast attended the shuttle's rollout ceremony in 1976. From left to right: James Fletcher, NASA administrator; DeForest Kelley, Dr. "Bones" McCoy; George Takei, Mr. Sulu; James Doohan, Chief Engineer "Scotty"; Nichelle Nichols, Lt. Uhura; Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock, Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek's creator; George Low, NASA deputy administrator; and Walter Koenig, Mr. Chekov. (Credit: NASA)

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, and most of the original series cast attended the shuttle’s rollout ceremony in 1976. From left to right: James Fletcher, NASA administrator; DeForest Kelley, Dr. “Bones” McCoy; George Takei, Mr. Sulu; James Doohan, Chief Engineer “Scotty”; Nichelle Nichols, Lt. Uhura; Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock, Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek’s creator; George Low, NASA deputy administrator; and Walter Koenig, Mr. Chekov. (Credit: NASA)

Spock, Sulu, Bones & Scotty

Spock, Sulu, Bones & Scotty

On September 17, 1976, Enterprise was rolled out of Rockwell’s plant at Palmdale, California. In recognition of its fictional namesake, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and most of the principal cast of the original series of Star Trek were on hand at the dedication ceremony.

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