HOUSTON — Space Shuttle Enterprise, NASA’s original prototype orbiter, was left exposed and apparently was damaged by Hurricane Sandy after the severe storm passed over New York Oct. 29.
On display onboard the flight deck of the Intrepid Sea, Air & 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.
Photos taken Oct. 30 showed the 55-meter-long and 18-meter-high pavilion’s fabric exterior lying draped over Enterprise, leaving much of the shuttle’s nose section and part of its payload bay uncovered. The orbiter’s vertical stabilizer, or tail, was protruding out the top, where it looks like part of the spacecraft may have been torn away.
“We certainly wish our best to everyone affected by the storm. It was a very big storm that affected many people,” NASA spokesman Mike Curie said in an email response to questions.
“We are aware that Enterprise appears to be uncovered on the deck of the Intrepid, but we’re sure that our friends at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum will do their best to take care of Enterprise and get it back up to shipshape as soon as possible,” he said.
Intrepid officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The “superstorm” Sandy flooded Pier 86 on the west side of Manhattan, where the Intrepid is anchored, submerging part of the museum’s main entrance under water. Similar damage was seen throughout the city and region, leaving buildings destroyed, millions of people without power and at least 40 dead.
Enterprise was delivered to the Intrepid in June after being transferred from its previous home of eight years at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia. In its place, Space Shuttle Discovery is now at the Udvar-Hazy Center, having arrived in April after NASA retired its orbiter fleet in 2011.
Discovery also was in Sandy’s path, and the Smithsonian closed down due to the storm. However, no damage to that shuttle was reported, nor was any damage evident on webcam footage of the vehicle.
Enterprise, built in the 1970s, never made it to space, but was used instead as a prototype to test the space shuttle design during approach-and-landing glide tests.
Since arriving at the Intrepid, Enterprise has been housed in its climate-controlled inflated pavilion. This shelter was never meant to be permanent, however. Ultimately, the Intrepid has said it plans to build a larger, separate facility to showcase the shuttle and enhance the museum’s other space exhibits and educational displays.
Robert Z. Pearlman is editor of collectSPACE.com.