A battleship turned into a museum was a fascinating concept in itself. Their vintage aircraft collection was a value-added bonus. But for our money the greatest exhibit of all aboard the USS Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum was a premium exhibit space on the upper deck showcasing the great-granddaddy of the American Space Shuttle program, the one that started it all, the Space Shuttle Enterprise.
Parked beneath the Enterprise is a second vehicle: one of the shuttles used in filming episodes of the original Star Trek series during its 1966-1969 run. Because someone among their ranks has dual senses of humor and awesomeness, we have the Enterprise shuttle and an Enterprise shuttle, basking together with an aura of simulated starshine for ambiance. Call them the Astrodynamic Duo.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year from 1999 to 2015 my wife Anne and I took a road trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. With my son’s senior year in college imminent and next summer likely to be one of major upheaval for him (Lord willing), the summer of 2016 seemed like a good time to get the old trio back together again for one last family vacation before he heads off into adulthood and forgets we’re still here. In honor of one of our all-time favorite vacations to date, we scheduled our long-awaited return to New York City…
The museum had a handful of items supporting to the “space” aspect of the name — not as many as we enjoyed at Kansas’ Cosmosphere (cf. our 2012 road trip), and nowhere near the American space cornucopia that is Kennedy Space Center (cf. our 2007 road trip), but it was a start. Down on the hangar deck, the largest artifact was also the most disappointing. This Mercury space capsule looked cool till we read the placard.
Meanwhile on the upper deck: one real Space Shuttle from NASA’s space program alongside one real, fictional shuttle from a CBS TV program.
The Enterprise sadly was never meant for spaceflight proper. It was the first of its kind, a proof-of-concept prototype built in 1976 to herald the future of American space exploration. It ran through a few atmospheric flights attached to other craft, performed free-flight a couple of times, and ultimately paved the way for Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour before the program was scrapped in 2011 because none of them returned from space filled with cash.
Americans are achingly aware of the final fates of Challenger and Columbia. As of this writing, Atlantis is now at Kennedy Space Center (presumably in place of the shuttle replica we boarded in 2007); the Discovery is at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC (delivered there nine years after our 2003 DC trip); and the Endeavor is at L.A.’s California Science Center (a bit far for us, but maybe someday).
As for the Enterprise? Right here in Manhattan, floating on the Hudson River.
Like the space shuttle Enterprise, the starship Enterprise‘s shuttle was never fitted for true spaceflight. That would’ve made for a daunting set for filming, especially on a 1960s TV budget. Like many a TV prop from yesteryear, this one had fallen into disrepair until a group of dedicated fans teamed up and raised the funds to restore it for display purposes.
Some of the surrounding placards were vague as to which episode this particular shuttle was from, but it’s been christened the Galileo in honor of the only Federation shuttle to get its name into an episode title. (I nearly wrote “the only Federation vehicle” till I remembered the Pegasus from The Next Generation, probably among others. Gaffe averted.)
These two objects of wonder, ultimately, are why we declined the Intrepid’s other Trek-themed premium-admission exhibit, the interactive “Starfleet Academy Experience”. It sounded like an intriguing simulation, but we had a few more days of Manhattan plans ahead, not-unlimited funds at our disposal, and a more invested interest in seeing the real things shine.
To be continued!
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