The Enterprise kicked off NASA's multi decade-long Space Shuttle program

·2 min read
The Enterprise kicked off NASA's multi decade-long Space Shuttle program
The Enterprise kicked off NASA's multi decade-long Space Shuttle program

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by Chris Mei from The Weather Network, featuring stories about people, communities and events and how weather impacted them.


On Friday, September 17, 1976, the Space Shuttle program introduced the Space Shuttle Enterprise, its first orbiter. The shuttle was designed to perform atmospheric test flights and was built without engines or a working heat shield, so it wasn't fit for spaceflight.

The Enterprise cost around $10 billion to construct and almost a decade. It became the first shuttle to fly freely when a Boeing 747 airplane lifted it 25,000 feet and let it glide.

 Courtesy NOAA
Courtesy NOAA

"The space shuttle prototype Enterprise flies free after being released from NASA's 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft over Rogers Dry Lakebed during the second of five free flights carried out at the Dryden Flight Research Center, in Edwards, Calif., as part of the shuttle program's Approach and Landing Tests (ALT). Courtesy of NASA

The Enterprise was named after Star Trek's fictional starship, USS Enterprise. It received this moniker after Star Trek fans convinced President Gerald Ford through a letter-writing campaign.

The Space Shuttle program began regular flights to space with the Columbia spacecraft, which launched on April 12, 1981. This shuttle with launched by two solid-rocket boosters and an external tank. It orbited the Earth and completed its two-day mission.

The Space Shuttle program faced major setbacks with the Challenger space shuttle exploded 74 seconds after takeoff on Jan. 28, 1986. All seven crew members on board were killed.


"Fred Haise and Gordon Fullerton (wearing oxygen mask) in Enterprise's cockpit, 1977." Courtesy of Wikipedia

The program started again in 1988 with the shuttle Discovery. After that launch, NASA's space program led ongoing missions, like Hubble Space Telescope maintenance and International Space Station construction.

On Feb. 1, 2003, NASA faced another setback, when Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry to Earth. Once again, all seven astronauts aboard were killed.

After the second catastrophe, the space shuttle program was grounded until 2005, with the launch of the Discovery.

In July 2011, NASA's Space Shuttle program launched its final mission.

To learn more about the Space Shuttle Enterprise and Space Shuttle program, listen to today's episode of "This Day In Weather History."

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