Construction began on Enterprise on June 4, 1974. Designated OV-101, it was originally planned to be named Constitution and unveiled on Constitution Day, September 17, 1976. A write-in campaign by Star Trek fans to President Gerald Ford asked that the orbiter be named after the Starship Enterprise. Although Ford did not mention the campaign, the president—who during World War II had served on the aircraft carrier USS Monterey (CVL-26) that served with USS Enterprise (CV-6)—said that he was “partial to the name” and overrode NASA officials.

NASA IMAGE: The Space Shuttle prototype Enterprise flies free of NASA’s 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) during one of five free flights carried out at the Dryden Flight Research Facility, Edwards, California in 1977 as part of the Shuttle program’s Approach and Landing Tests. The tests were conducted to verify orbiter aerodynamics and handling characteristics in preparation for orbital flights with the Space Shuttle Columbia. A tail cone over the main engine area of Enterprise smoothed out turbulent airflow during flight. It was removed on the two last free flights to accurately check approach and landing characteristics.


After completing the initial testing phase of the shuttle program, Enterprise was scheduled to be refitted to become the second shuttle after Columbia which was already in production. However, during the construction of Columbia, design details changed, making it cost prohibitive to dismantle Enterprise and re-work it into the new design.

Enterprise on display at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. Photo by Ad Meskens.

Enterprise Retirement

With the completion of critical testing, Enterprise was partially disassembled to allow some components to be used in other shuttles. After that it then went on an international tour visiting France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada, and then back in the U.S. states of California, Alabama, and Louisiana. It was also used to fit-check the never-used shuttle launch pad at Vandenberg AFB, California. Finally, on November 18, 1985, Enterprise was ferried to Washington, D.C., where it became property of the Smithsonian Institution.

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