NEW YORK (PIX11)—New York and New Jersey saw a spectacle in the sky that easily rivaled the Fourth of July fireworks, in part because it was a far more rare sight to behold. The space shuttle Enterprise flew piggyback over the most iconic landmarks in the city as part of its welcome to its new home, The Big Apple.
The shuttle's day began at its former home, Dulles Airport, near Washington, DC, where Enterprise has been on display at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum annex since the spacecraft was retired from the NASA fleet in 1985. Enterprise took off, attached to the back of a specialized NASA Boeing 747, at 9:40 A.M., and a few million people here in the New York metro area were aware.
"We actually watched the takeoff live," a second grade teacher at P.S. 276 in Battery Park City, named Leslie, told PIX11 News while her class sat on the grass in Battery Park, awaiting the shuttle's arrival in New York. "We're really excited," Leslie said, "And now they're going to write some poetry [about it]."
The poetry in the air arrived around 10:45 A.M., from the south, as Enterprise swooped down to around 2000 feet, flying up the Hudson River near the One World Trade Center tower, as it continues to rise during its construction. 1WTC is currently just over 1000 feet high, approximately half the height of the altitude at which Enterprise and its shuttle-carrying aircraft flew by.
Petrina Casso, of the Bronx, was emotional, as she watched the spaceplane slowly soar north toward where she was watching at Pier 84, next to the USS Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. "With everything we've been through, the World Trade Center, all of the comraderie, our freedoms to do anything and go anywhere we want, it doesn't get better than this," Casso told PIX11 News. "And seeing [the shuttle] represents that."
As Enterprise got closer to each of the countless numbers of skywatchers along the shore, on rooftops and looking out of windows in apartments and offices citywide, their eyes seemed to open wider. Enterprise flew over the Verrazano Bridge, past the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan, then past the USS Intrepid in Midtown, and north over the George Washington and Tappan Zee Bridges.
Then the spacecraft that's the only one of the four remaining shuttles not to have gone into space -- Enterprise was a high-altitude, full-scale, fully operational test spacecraft for the shuttle program -- flew back down the Hudson for a victory lap. It swung east over North Jersey, then back across the Hudson and over the Bronx and Queens, where it touched down at John F. Kennedy Airport.
Eric Knappe's reaction to the sight echoed how many people in the Tri-State region may feel. "The last ten years, you see a low flying plane, it gives you a creepy feeling," Knappe said. "But today it felt really good seeing that plane fly by."
"I'm usually not interested in this stuff," seventh grader Amy Klemens told PIX11 News from her viewing spot on Pier 84 on the east side of the Hudson, "But [the shuttle] said 'NASA' on it, so I thought that was really cool." Her mom, who'd brought Amy and her brother Alex from Flemington, New Jersey for the day, added, "We could read the [the name on] plane. It was that close."
It was a once-in-a-lifetime view that, for some people, was a twice-in-a-lifetime view. NASA had flown Enterprise over New York on an exhibition mission in 1983, but this time, she was here to stay.
The shuttle taxiied into JFK Airport atop its transport 747 around 11:30 A.M. The spaceplane whose NASA serial number is OV-101 was greeted at JFK by the first officer of a starship whose serial number is NCC-1701 -- the actor best known as Mr. Spock of the Starship Enterprise.
"To the scientists and engineers who make this wonderful thing happen," Leonard Nimoy said at the JFK welcoming ceremony, "And to Enterprise, I say, live long and prosper."
In July, the shuttle Enterprise will be towed by barge to its permanent home at the USS Intrepid. It will be displayed in a temporary structure on the former aircraft carrier's deck, while a permanent display structure for Enterprise is built on the Intrepid's pier.
For now, though, the shuttle's mission is to boldy go through its honeymoon in its new home. "I've been to Cape Canaveral," Yonkers resident Joann Askia said from her perch next to the Intrepid, "But now I don't have to go anywhere."