As the US space shuttle program enters its eventide, with flights due to end in September, here’s an unusual and largely forgotten episode from its early days. On 5 June 1983, shuttle Enterprise touched down at Stansted airport as part of a European tour that also took in Germany, France and Italy. Crowds of 200,000 people turned out to watch the unique spectacle, while many more watched the flight over west and north London (pic of the aircraft over Heathrow). Unfortunately, bad weather forced the cancellation of a Thames flyover. We can only assume that the tabloid press ran with headlines of ‘Euston, we have a problem’.
Although it flew several unaided atmospheric flights, and here crossed the Atlantic atop a modified 747, STS Enterprise never flew into orbit. It was designed as a test vehicle to demonstrate that the spaceship could manoeuvre and land like a conventional aircraft. It was named after the famous command of Captain James T. Kirk, following a vigorous campaign by Star Trek fans. The noble craft currently resides in the Smithsonian in Washington, but may shift elsewhere when the shuttle program concludes and a genuine orbiter takes its place. We hope the Science Museum will put in a bid.
Long-term readers may remember our successful April Fool’s joke inspired by the shuttle-747 configuration.