Ever wanted to go nose to nose with a space shuttle?

You can Thursday, at the opening of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum’s exhibit of the shuttle Enterprise. After years of planning and begging for a New York shuttle to display, the prized NASA gift is available for the public to step near enough to – almost – touch.

Metro previewed the new exhibit, inside a cavernous blue bubble on the flight deck. Visitors can walk under the shuttle or climb stairs to look at it head-on, staring at the nose and peering up toward the cockpit windows.

“It’s rare you can get this close to a space shuttle," astronautMario Runco said. "Sometimes they
wouldn’t even let us get this close.”


Panels around the perimeter explain how the shuttle was used for flight training and tests after the space shuttle Columbia exploded in 2003 – a flight door still shows scrapes.

“She’s got a very long history,” Eric Boehm, the museum’s aviation curator, said of the shuttle.

At the unveiling was an astronaut very familiar with that cockpit – Fred Haise, a commander who flew multiple flights with the Enterprise, which was dropped off a plane to test its gliding.

The flights, ensuring that the orbiter could guide to a safe landing, were short, he said – less than five minutes, and full of tests.

"Those flights are very short, when we were dropped off," he said. “It flew much better than even our simulation."

Seeing it displayed in Manhattan, he said, "I’m very happy to see it ended up here.”

And they landed in a runway created in a lake bed, he said – so even if the gliding did not go as planned, veering about a half mile to the left or right was not a problem, he said.

Runco, who flew in the sister shuttles Atlantis and Endeavor, described liftoff as “a lot of noise, a lot of violence, a lot of shaking.”

The best moment, he said, was his first spacewalk.

“Being on a spacewalk and looking out into the universe and being confronted with infinity,” he said. “Infinity is a really hard concept to deal with, especially when it’s in your face.”

He added, “The thing that I remember about landing, after they lift the hatch and you go outside, you smell Earth again. That was amazing because I didn’t realize it as something I missed.”

Museum officials hope to eventually display the shuttle in a glass case, adding a retail space and café.

The exhibit, which opens with photos of the shuttle being flown over and into New York, costs $6, after general admission to the museum, which is $24.

Shuttle facts

The Enterprise never flew in space, but it was the first of NASA’s space shuttles.

In 1977, astronauts used it to test approach and landing for nine months, making sure it could safely glide to the runway.

The orbiter was supposed to be named Constitution, but “Star Trek” fans wrote into the White House, convincing officials to change the name in honor.

The shuttle weighs 150,000 pounds.
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