Welcome home, space shuttle Enterprise.
The NASA shuttle soared over the Statue of Liberty and the world’s most famous skyline Friday morning before landing safely at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Hundreds were waiting to greet the aircraft, including NASA dignitaries, fidgety schoolchildren and Leonard Nimoy.
“It feels like a reunion,” Nimoy told CNN. Nimoy, who played Spock on the 1960s sci-fi series “Star Trek," recalled being photographed with the Enterprise when it was first unveiled as part of a politics-meets-pop culture moment. Then-President Ford had ordered the shuttle named after the show’s fictional star ship Enterprise following a letter-writing campaign by fans of the series.
PHOTOS: The space shuttle program, 1972-2011Before the landing, residents throughout the tri-state area lined the Hudson River, tumbled out onto sidewalks and scrambled onto rooftops in the hopes of getting a glimpse, camera phones held high.
The Enterprise was affixed atop a specially modified 747 that had taken off earlier in the morning from Dulles International Airport near Washington. The sight was enough to cause even the most jaded New Yorkers to stop and stare skyward.
The Big Apple had been waiting for the moment all week. The Enterprise was originally supposed to arrive Monday, and then Wednesday. But those plans were canceled due to bad weather.
The Enterprise is one of four NASA shuttles that are being moved to permanent museum homes throughout the United States, after a fierce political battle over which cities would get one.
Technically, the Enterprise is not a real space shuttle. It was a prototype and a test orbiter that never flew into space. Still, the Enterprise was critical to the tests necessary to verify orbiter aerodynamics and handling characteristics in preparation for flights that followed with space shuttle Columbia.
The Enterprise is ultimately headed for its new retirement home at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum this summer in Manhattan. Last week, the space shuttle Discovery was delivered to Dulles, en route to its final destination at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.
The California Science Center in Los Angeles will get the space shuttle Endeavour, and Atlantis will go to the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex at Cape Canaveral, Fla.
After the Enterprise is delivered to Kennedy airport, it will be moved via tugboat up the Hudson River to the Intrepid museum.