“Wow, Mamma, that’s a biiiiig rocket ship!” My daughter Eva is standing on her tippy toes with her hands up and arms spread wipe. We both have our heads cranked back as we look at the black bottom of the NASA Space Orbiter, Enterprise. “It certainly is. It’s called a space shuttle.” I didn’t know how else to reply for I was in as much awe as my four year old at the size of the spacecraft. “Do astronauts fly space shuttles like that?” Now her eyes are wide with wonder. I look down at her and say, “Yes. They do.” “Then I want to be an astronaut!!” She exclaims just as my husband, Glenn, comes walking toward us. “Daddy, I want to be an astronaut!!” Another mission accomplished by Space Shuttle Enterprise. I looked around the Space Shuttle Pavilion on the flight deck of the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum, visitors were all doing the same— heads back, mouths open and pointing at the spacecraft that never left the Earth’s atmosphere but has played a significant role in space exploration.
I remember the day the NASA prototype arrived in New York City piggy backed on a 747. I was fortunate enough to be at work that day. My desk on the sixth floor of Chelsea Market faces large windows overlooking 15th Street with a clear view of the Hudson River. Everyone was anticipating its arrival that morning. NY1, as most media outlets, carried the flyby live. I was watching the event from the monitor on my desk. “Here it comes!!” I called to my coworkers, as I saw the Enterprise being ferried past landmarks leading to our building. Suddenly the Enterprise and its taxi came into view past the Standard Hotel. It was an unbelievable sight, an “only in New York” moment, it was April 27th a day and image I will surely always remember.
The Enterprise was originally named the Constitution for the bicentennial of the United States in 1976. However over 400,000 fans of the Star Trek series urged the White House to name the shuttle after the fictional starship from the show. The Enterprise was built with no engines or working heat shield which prevented the aircraft from exiting the bounds of the Earth’s atmosphere. All this I learned from reading the story board displayed inside the pavilion. Visitors to the museum exhibit can learn everything from the conception of the aircraft to its manufacturing and then test runs. The Enterprise paved the way with some modifications for the making of the space shuttles Columbia, Challenger, Atlantis and Endeavor.
We walked up the elevated platform where we could get an up-close look at the most complex machine ever built. As we stood looking at the nose of the shuttle I think how big it looks confined within the dome that makes up the pavilion, however tiny it would be in scale to the vast universe around us.
While examining the space shuttle I couldn’t help but think of all the images I have seen of the spacecraft both in books and on television. It’s hard not to remember the triumphs and tragedies we have seen. I will never forget my elementary school principal telling us about the Challenger explosion. I remember standing on line for hotdog day in the school lunchroom/auditorium. I see the scene as clearly in my mind today as it was then in 1986 and I hear my principal’s words, “It doesn’t look like there are any survivors.” At the time I didn’t realize the full impact of what he was talking about until I went home that night and saw the images on the news. Then when I was in my late twenties standing in my mother’s kitchen in 2003 when I heard about the shuttle Columbia exploding on reentry. This time old enough to know immediately what that meant and as a news reporter for nearly eight years I was engrossed in the coverage.
Of course the memories aren’t all tragic, but mostly of wonder. It continues to amaze me how brave men and women travel in these shuttles into space. I wonder what it’s like for them to look out those wide windows and see nothing but stars and planet Earth behind them. It’s always incredible to watch them floating around in the shuttle. I’m aware zero gravity is simulated here on Earth but it must be a surreal experience to actually float in space.
While I stood next to other visitors I wondered if the sight of the shuttle was jogging their memories as well. The last day of the 30 year shuttle program I called my mother who was watching my daughter at the time and told her to turn on the television. Despite the fact Eva was only three years old at the time I wanted her to witness the last NASA shuttle lifting off. One of our favorite bedtime stories is the book On the Moon. Like all the stories we read I interject my own sound effects and sometimes ad lib lines. For this particular book I make the sound of the rocket taking off but also say the famous line said by astronaut Neil Armstrong upon setting foot on the Moon, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Our visit to the Intrepid exhibit is part of my effort to encourage my daughter’s interest in space exploration. I often think what space travel will be like during her lifetime.
Once down from the platform we joined other space enthusiasts who were watching a film about the space program. Before leaving the pavilion we read about the future plans for Enterprise. We couldn’t make it out without purchasing a replica of the space shuttle from the small gift shop. Eva needed a memento from her first look at a space shuttle.
Our visit to the Space Shuttle Pavilion at the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum was a fun, fascinating, educational experience. Entry into the pavilion is an additional fee not included in the general admission ticket to the museum, however it is a priceless experience.
Space Shuttle Pavilion
Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum