Forty-five years ago, NASA’s first space shuttle soared only five miles and changed spaceflight forever.

On August 12, 1977, NASA entered a new era with the launch of the Business, a prototype space shuttle that never actually reached space. But despite not even reaching cruising altitude in a commercial airliner, the entire history of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program was built on the engineering advances made by this inaugural craft in its first free flight.

the namesake Business may sound familiar to the fandom of a certain sci-fi series, and that’s no coincidence. President Jimmy Carter, originally going to be called the Constitution to commemorate the bicentennial of the United States, decided to renounce the name after receiving more than 100,000 letters from star trek fans, calling for the first space shuttle to be named after the USA Business. Although Carter never referenced the series when he documented his decision to change the name, it was made quite clear when Gene Roddenberry and many of the cast members from star trek were present when Business debuted for the first time.

Business it was first shown to the public on September 17, 1976, in Palmdale, California, at the North American Rockwell Corporation. In 1969, initial planning began for the post-Apollo era, billed as the Space Transportation System, with a space station and nuclear rockets to Mars and the Moon that never quite got off the ground. In January 1972, President Richard Nixon announced the development of the Space Shuttle as a partially reusable spacecraft to “provide us with routine access to space” via cheaper launch vehicles, a further developed version of the vehicle envisioned in the Space Shuttle System. Space Transportation. In July of that year, NASA awarded the development contract to Rockwell. Rockwell began manufacturing parts for Business in June 1974.

the Business crew meets real life Business.Space Frontiers/File Photos/Getty Images

Early history of the Space Shuttle Enterprise

Unlike its predecessors, Business, perhaps ironically given its name, was never designed or built to enter space. Its design included no engine and no heat shield, both necessary components of a space shuttle. Business it was a prototype. In January 1977, after construction of the spacecraft was completed, she was transported to Edwards Air Force Base in California, where she began a series of tests to ensure the success of future Space Shuttle flights.

When I go into Google Meet with Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a member of the Chandra X-ray team, who is also an aeronautics buff, he asks if I’m calling on the NCC-1701 or the OV-101, going back to the fictitious Starfleet vehicle call letters vs. the very real prototype of NASA’s space shuttle.

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“Well, he was really a pioneer,” says McDowell. Reverse about the space shuttle Business. “I would say it was the first real flight test in the space shuttle program that gave people confidence that the crazy idea of ​​returning a spacecraft from orbit to a landing strip was actually doable.”

Business it was the foundation for the rest of the space shuttle program, but as a prototype intended to fly only about five miles above Earth, McDowell also amusingly said, “um, heaviest glider ever, right?”

“It was used in various ways,” says McDowell. “The biggest way was the approach landing test series, which was really to convince people that a 100-tonne spacecraft could fly to a runway without any engines.”

Business it was designed to test the spacecraft’s ability to approach a runway and land, appropriately called Approach and Landing Tests (ALT). ALTs were carried out both on the ground and in the air, but not exactly as you would think.

Before anything happened in the air, every element of the orbiter was tested on the ground to ensure it was operational. Then it was time to move things into atmosphere.

The porch that he placed Business on top of a Boeing 747.Bettmann/Bettmann/Getty Images

Space Shuttle Enterprise flight history

Business’The first flight of s was not a free flight. It was intended for a Boeing 747 Shuttle Craft Aircraft (SCA); these were called captive tests. The idea with the shuttles was that, as they left orbit, they would enter the atmosphere and then plan their landings, without the need for jet engines. However, this meant that NASA needed transportation between Air Force bases. The solution for carrying the shuttles became two modified Boeing 747 SCAs that could carry space shuttles on the body of the aircraft.

The first captive flight of the Business it took place on February 18, 1977. It measured the dynamics of the two craft together in flight, from their structural action to dynamics on the ground, such as braking. During this flight, the Business it was unmanned and the ship was idle.

Five more flight tests followed in a similar fashion, with a non-operational drone. Business attached to the SCA for the entire duration of the flight. Each flight provided additional details about the dynamics of these two joined ships in flight.

After these five flights, NASA flew the spacecraft three more times with one engine activated. Business attached to this SCA carrying two astronauts. In total, four astronauts flew in the Business. One crew consisted of Commander Fred W. Haise Jr. (who flew on Apollo 13) and Pilot Gordon Fullerton, who would later fly aboard for shuttle missions. The second crew consisted of Commander Joe H. Engle, an X-15 pilot and Apollo backup, and Pilot Richard H. Truly, who would later serve as a NASA administrator. (Engle and Truly would later fly together on the second shuttle spaceflight.)

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After NASA completed these test flights, it was time to see how Business it would slide on its own when released from the SCA. This was a great feat of engineering.

“The ALT focus test, that was really brave. You’re gonna put the 747 in a tailspin, separate the Business of the Boeing, and not crash into the tails [of the 747]Of course,” explains McDowell.

At 8:00 a.m. at the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Business along with the SCA, it took flight with 65,000 spectators watching. Forty-eight minutes later, Business split from the SCA and flew solo for the first time. Haise and Fullerton made a clean landing of the spacecraft by sliding it back onto the runway.

It was a risky flight, so NASA and the Air Force created a lot of uncertainty with their runway. At Dryden, they used a seven-mile runway in a dry lake bed to leave enough room for Business come to a stop.

If you’ve ever heard of the phrase “expand the envelope,” it actually comes from aeronautics. McDowell explains that there is essentially a threshold at different altitudes for top speeds; these ALT tests were used to expand the envelope and test those limits.

Business takes one last plane flight en route to New York City in 2012. Tim Clayton – Corbis/Corbis Historic/Getty Images

later life of Business

In March 1978, after more ALT testing on Edwards, Business it was transported to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, where additional parts, such as an external tank and internal rocket boosters, were fitted to the spacecraft that could help simulate how the spacecraft would withstand an actual launch.

Business it was sent for further testing at the Kennedy Space Center, where it encountered an engineering problem that proved critical for future missions. An external tank containing liquid nitrogen and oxygen developed a layer of ice during a simulated launch, a potentially huge hazard. This resulted in the addition of a vent to the external tank which prevented ice build-up.

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In 1979, Business and her sister ship Columbiathey were both at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Business was on display for NASA employees and their families, drawing an audience of more than 75,000 people. This was just the beginning of Enterprise’s rise to celebrity status, even if she never went into space.

The spacecraft was eventually transported back (on an SCA) to Edwards, but it made seven stops along the way, each offering the public a chance to take a look at the space shuttle prototype. Although it had drawn large crowds prior to its arrival at Edwards, it sat in storage for several years before being sent on a European tour shortly after the release of Columbia, including the Paris Air Show in 1983, earning him celebrity status. In 1984, she even appeared at the World’s Fair in New Orleans.

NASA officially retired Business in late 1985 and turned the ship over to the Smithsonian Institution. Before reappearing to the public, she spent 18 years at Dulles Airport in Washington, DC. However the Business it was not unused. In fact, even after its retirement, NASA found many uses for Business.

First, NASA used Business to help design a backup system that would keep a space shuttle safe in the event of brake failure. So after the Challenger disaster, NASA tested different ways for crews to eject safely from a space shuttle using Business.

Business It would be quite useful in determining the cause of the destruction of her sister ship, Columbia, the first space shuttle to make an orbital flight. On February 1, 2003, after 28 missions and 22 years of operation, the Columbia the disaster occurred upon re-entering the atmosphere, killing the entire crew.

Because Columbia it was only the second space shuttle, it had more similarities with Business than any of the other vehicles on the show. NASA ended up using fiberglass panels from Business for foam impact testing. Foam is the material used to insulate the spacecraft, but unless it’s perfectly packed, it can come loose in extreme conditions. In the test, a 1.67 piece of foam was ejected into the fiberglass panel from Business at a speed of 779 feet per second. The tests ended up offering convincing evidence that the accident was the result of a blow from foam.

In 2003, Business it was moved to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, where it was on display until 2011, when NASA retired the entire Space Shuttle fleet. Business found its new home in New York City at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum. She made her final trip in the back of an SCA to John F. Kennedy Airport, where Leonard Nimoy (Spock in star trek) was there waiting to greet the spacecraft before it arrived at its new home.

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