Space Shuttle Enterprise, NASA’s original prototype orbiter, is sitting exposed and appears to have been partially damaged by Hurricane Sandy after the severe storm passed over New York on Monday night (Oct. 29).
On public display aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, a converted aircraft carrier, since July, Enterprise had been protected from the elements inside a pressurized pavilion. Based on photos posted online, the inflatable structure appears to have first deflated and then been torn by the winds of the now post-tropical storm cyclone.
Photographs show the 55 meters by 18-meter-high pavilion’s cloth exterior now lies draped over Enterprise, although much of the shuttle’s nose section and part of its payload bay is uncovered. The orbiter’s vertical stabilizer, or tail, is protruding out of the top of the fabric, where it appears part of the spacecraft has been torn away.
Intrepid officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The “superstorm” Sandy flooded Pier 86, where the Intrepid is anchored, submerging part of the museum’s main entrance under water. Similar extensive damage was seen throughout the city and region, leaving buildings destroyed, millions of people without power and at least 16 dead.
Enterprise was delivered to the Intrepid in June after being transferred from its previous home at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia. In its place, the retired space shuttle Discovery is now on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center, having arrived in April after NASA retired its 30-year shuttle program in 2011.
Discovery was also in Sandy’s path, and the Smithsonian remains closed due to the storm. However, no damage to that orbiter was reported, nor was any damage evident on webcam footage of the shuttle.
Enterprise, built in the 1970s, never made it to space, but it was used as a prototype to test the space shuttle design during approach-and-landing glide tests.
Since its arrival at the Intrepid, Enterprise has been housed in its climate-controlled steel-and-fabric “Space Shuttle Pavilion.” This shelter was never meant to be permanent, however. Eventually, Intrepid plans to build a larger facility to showcase the shuttle and enhance its other space exhibits and educational displays.
As of Tuesday morning, superstorm Sandy was centered about 190 kilometer) east-southeast of Pittsburgh, slowly moving westward and weakening over Pennsylvania, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami. The storm’s maximum sustained winds were 72 kph, down from 150 kph Monday when it was a Category 1 hurricane.
Robert Z. Pearlman is editor of CollectSPACE.com