Friday, April 27, 2012

Space shuttle Enterprise hitches a ride to New York

Enterprise, the prototype for the space shuttles, flew over the New York City area, riding atop a specially equipped 747 jet, before landing at Kennedy International Airport at 11:22 a.m.

And, perhaps in a scenario familiar to many air travel passengers arriving in New York, the shuttle appeared to be taking its time meandering over the area.

Crowds of people lined various vantage points across the area to get a glimpse of the shuttle, which flew up from Dulles Airport near Washington on Friday morning.

The 150,000-pound shuttle soared over New York Harbor, past the Statue of Liberty and up the Hudson River. After passing over the George Washington Bridge, the flight continued north to the Tappan Zee Bridge before making another pass over the city. And then it made the same loop, heading back up the Hudson again.

The flight is supposed to be the last time in the sky for Enterprise, which never flew in space but did glide to the ground on its own several times a few decades ago. The prototype is eventually destined for the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, which is paying the National Aeronautics & Space Administration more than $9 million for the delivery. NASA awarded Enterprise to the museum last year when it was giving away all of the remaining orbiters after ending the shuttle program.

Last week, the same old 747 ferried the shuttle Discovery to Dulles so that it could replace Enterprise at the nearby satellite site of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. Once Enterprise is lifted off the 747 by cranes - a process NASA calls "demating" - it will be loaded onto a barge this summer and floated from Kennedy to the Intrepid, a retired aircraft carrier docked in the Hudson in Midtown Manhattan.

In short, an antique airplane is carrying an antique spacecraft to New York, where it will wind up on the deck of an antique warship.