Shuttle Enterprise has a 'Star Trek' legacy
“Star Trek” cast members attend the rollout of the space shuttle Enterprise in Palmdale, California, on September 17, 1976.
April 27th, 2012
07:00 AM ET

Shuttle Enterprise has a 'Star Trek' legacy

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When the Enterprise exhibit opens at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York, "Star Trek" fans will be among the first people in line to see the historic space shuttle. Trekkies – fans of the television series and movies – share a special bond with the prototype for NASA’s first reusable manned spacecraft. The Enterprise got its name thanks, in part, to their efforts.

The first space shuttle was originally supposed to be called the Constitution. But in 1976, President Gerald Ford received tens of thousands of letters from "Star Trek" fans. The science fiction buffs saw the shuttle as the realization of their dream world. They wanted it renamed Enterprise.

“Suddenly, the stuff we were seeing on television, every week, every night on "Star Trek," was becoming a reality,” Frank Gruber said. His home in suburban Lincoln Park, New Jersey, is a shrine to "Star Trek." Models of the starship Enterprise and other fictional spacecraft from the TV shows and movies hang from the ceiling. The walls are covered with photos of Gruber posing with "Star Trek" cast members.

When he was 10 years old, he wrote a passion-filled letter to the then-president. “I remember addressing it to the White House and very, very carefully printing in block letters,” Gruber said. He argued that the shuttle should be renamed Enterprise because "Star Trek" represented “hope for a positive future in which we would have peace.”

Ford ended up renaming the first space shuttle after the starship from a TV series that ran for only three years. Suddenly, a bunch of Hollywood actors found themselves in the realm of astronauts and rocket scientists.

“It was amazing what they accomplished,” said George Takei, who played Lt. Sulu on "Star Trek." “The number of letters going to the White House was of tsunami proportions.”

In 1976, Takei found himself with his fellow cast members at center stage when the Enterprise was unveiled to the public on a runway in Palmdale, California. “They had the Air Force band there. And they started playing the theme from 'Star Trek,' ” Takei said. “Out rolled this glistening craft with the word Enterprise painted on its side. It was a memory that I still cherish today.”

Takei learned that day that "Star Trek" inspired an entire generation of science fiction buffs to get involved with space exploration. NASA engineer and iReporter Candy Torres was among them. “I went to conventions in New York City, and I have the costumes and all those pictures … and I’m not ashamed of them,” she said.

Torres worked on software for the space shuttle at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. She said "Star Trek" fueled her interest in space exploration. “Yes, I wanted the excitement of travel in space and all that, but the 'Star Trek' image of people working together was also very important to me.”

The shuttle Enterprise has more than just a name in common the fictional ship. It never actually went into space. The first space shuttle was built without engines or a heat shield and served as a test platform. That’s OK, as far as Trekkies are concerned.

“It’s a vehicle named Enterprise that’s essentially, for all intents and purposes, a model. And all the ships that we love essentially named Enterprise are models,” Gruber said. “In a way, it’s almost like an extension of the Enterprise we’ve loved for all these years for that reason.”

When Gruber visits the space shuttle Enterprise for the first time, he’ll probably hear the "Star Trek" theme song playing in his head and the words made famous by actor William Shatner, “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” In that moment, the 46-year-old part-time instructor at Bergen Community College in New Jersey will be 10 years old again.

soundoff (74 Responses)
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  2. Leyla

    Your class has been working so hard on this! I have loved wachitng your spaceship develop and can not wait for your space day!Mrs. Barnett

    July 1, 2012 at 3:40 am |
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      June 27, 2013 at 6:22 am |
  3. Darkguardian1314

    Oh we were rockin' the leisure suits in those days at the dawn of disco. Notice that William Shatner was the only one not present at the roll out. Nimoy and Shatner tried to shake their type-casting of their famous roles by distancing themselves. Nimoy -"I Am Not Spock" that came out earlier that year and was just starting the TV series "In Search Of". Both have turn around and embraced their personas.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  4. borgbike

    I know it's not, but it kinda looks like Carl Sagan in the back to the left. Sorry, I'm guilty of hopeful thinking.

    April 28, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  5. Writerscramp

    Those polyester leisure suits the cast members are wearing in that photo standing in front of the shuttle should also be displayed in the museum

    April 28, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  6. S Paul Sahm

    I've posted some shots of the April 27th NYC Enterprise flyby. Enjoy... http://spaulsahm.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Shuttle-Enterprise/G0000U7Z0uEvmD1o/I0000ucEE4f2P9.0

    April 28, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  7. Hig Hurtenflurst

    [Trekker] "Tomorrow is Yesterday" didn't drop the Enterprise over New York, it was over Omaha, Nebraska. The episode's sub-plot involved deciding what to do with a rescued pilot from Offut AFB whose fighter crashed while investigating the "UFO". [/Trekker]

    April 27, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
  8. Theorising

    Are they making baby planes !!! LOL

    April 27, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  9. Bryce

    Who is standing next to DeForrest?

    April 27, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Richard

      NASA Administrator Dr. James D. Fletcher; DeForest Kelley, who portrayed Dr. "Bones" McCoy on the series; George Takei (Mr. Sulu); James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott); Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura); Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock); series creator Gene Rodenberry; an unnamed NASA official; and, Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov). Credit: NASA

      April 27, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Michael

      The person standing next to DeForest Kelley was the head of NASA at the time, whose name escapes me at the moment.

      April 27, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  10. TheThinker

    BTW, all your comments are illogical. ;)

    April 27, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  11. William

    HA! I remember writing one of those letters in 1976 too. I can't remember where I mailed it, but the effort to have the first shuttle names Enterprise really had the Trek community on fire then. Neat memories.

    April 27, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  12. FanFrom WayBack

    What a great photo – brings back some fond memories... Though neither of my parents were geeks, I don't remember many weeknight dinners where (the original) Star Trek wasn't on while Mom was getting dinner on the table. As dated as it is, that original series will always have a special meaning for me.

    April 27, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  13. dale

    I do not understand why Houston did not get a shuttle, without Houston I don't think there would have been anything.

    April 27, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • cj

      Because if it was in Houston you would be lucky if 1 person got to see the space craft for every 10 that will in NY or LA. Likely closer to 1 for 20.

      April 27, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
      • Haveyoutriedturningitoffandonagain

        Houston is the 4th largest city in the U.S. I think your math and logic are incorrect.

        April 27, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
      • bubba

        probably because you would have to to go Houston, and who would want to do that? NY or LA makes better sense for people to see it.

        April 27, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
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        June 28, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Barbara

      Houston didn't take care of what it has already which is why they missed out. It wasn't just the history of places it was also how they would be presented. Leaving historical spacecraft out to the elements after continually promising to display it properly isn't exactly the best way to show that a shuttle should be put in the same home.

      April 27, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  14. Alex

    Roddenberry named the starship for the air craft carrier and the shuttle was in turn named for the starship

    April 27, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • justuandme

      Correct!

      April 27, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  15. DEAN

    they shuttle should be moved to HoustonTexas were at least one of the shuttles belongs.no other city has the right to have one. Houston is home to mission control and astrount training camp. other other city can claim that.

    April 27, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • war919

      Well, I was born in Cocoa Beach and I am pretty sure we should have one. I mean, this is where they are launched. Sorry Houston, you simply take over after the most dangerous part is over.

      April 27, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
      • Stephen

        You mean Coco Beach is a real place??? I thought it was just made up for that "I Dream Of Genie"T.V. Show.

        April 27, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  16. Eddie O.

    Gotta love Captain Denny Crane Kirk!!!

    April 27, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  17. mattski

    Man look at those outfits. Looking back, it's hard to believe we really dressed like that.

    April 27, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • DavidLevinsn

      I have a jacket that looks just like DeForest Kelly's and I still wear it. I think they look pretty cool.

      April 27, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
      • doughnuts

        No, it doesn't.

        April 27, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  18. skippydog

    And OF COURSE Bill Shatner couldn't find the time to be there with all the other crew visiting the Shuttle named after the show that made him famous. I love Trek but Shatner is a class-A deuchebag and always has been.

    April 27, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Matthew

      I was thinking the very same thing. I notice Martin Landau is there next to Koenig. But with flim and television stars, you never know when you can get out of a shoot, and maybe Shatner wanted to be there but couldn't get out of other commitments.

      April 27, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
      • doughnuts

        That's Gene Roddenberry.

        April 27, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • SilentBoy741

      What, nobody gonna rag on James Doohan for not being there?

      April 27, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
      • Gnu

        I believe he's just out of shot behind George and Nichelle, you can only see his arm and part of his wildly pinkish 70's shirt.

        April 27, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
      • Kyreal

        I am sure he wanted to, but when your 6 feet under. well!

        April 28, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
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  19. markmark1

    I remember running home from a friend's house to watch the Enterprise launched off the 747 and glide in for a landing. I was 5 years old and I remember that I felt like the Flash because it seemed like I was running so fast to get home.

    April 27, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  20. jk

    The Trekkies made a bad choice because the shuttle was indeed a shuttle, not a vehicle of exploration like the TV show version. In fact, the obsession with the shuttle program set our manned space exploration programs back decades. It is not remembered very fondly by the people who actually want to do Trek-like things.

    April 27, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • DavidLevinsn

      Wow. Do you ever get tired of complaining?

      April 27, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • Randall

      so you speak for every star trek fan? if you know star trek then you know there are various incarnations of ships in canon and non canon that have the name enterprise. it was an honor and a homage. frankly the only gripe i have is that it should have gone to san francisco where the fictional star fleet headquarters is. new york has nada to do with star trek.

      April 28, 2012 at 1:42 am |
  21. Tannim

    New York City does not need nor deserve Enterprise. It should go to Houston for permanent display at the Johnson Space Center. New York has zero ties to the space shuttle, while the other locations (save DC, but that's the Smithsonian) certainly do.

    April 27, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Joe B

      Baawaaaaa. Baaawaaaa.

      April 27, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Joscar90019

      Let's go back to the beginning of NASA, what did Houston have to do with the space program? The aircraft industry was primarily in California, the lauch facility was established in Florida so why did the headquarters and control center go into a city & state that never have a spacecraft take off or landing? It had a lot of powerful people in Washington that insisted it go there. You got the NASA center and all the jobs that came with it for 50+ years, get over the fact you didn't get a shuttle.

      April 27, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • patNY

      Tannim – you are a first class a$$#ole! It's being displayed at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and [get ready for this one] SPACE museum! I just saw it's NYC fly by, and you don't deserve to see that!

      April 27, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • paxnor

      New York PAID for it. The shuttles were for sale. If Houston wanted it, they could have bought it.

      April 27, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  22. Scott Thompson

    Do you think that's Carl Sagan behind everybody to the left?

    April 27, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Tara

      Yes, that is Carl Sagan in the background. He was invited as well by NASA.

      April 27, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Quid Malmborg in Plano TX

      I'll be darned if it ain't! Who needed Shatner when they had Carl Sagan there?

      Word up, Billyboy.

      April 27, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
      • SilentBoy741

        Yeah, now Sagan was cool.

        April 27, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  23. Tara

    As one of those Trekkies (teen at the time) who wrote a heartfelt letter to President Ford in 1976, I have to say that I was both happy and disappointed when the new shuttle was renamed "Enterprise." No one mentioned that this was a prototype and would never fly in space. I think that defeated the whole purpose in many Trekkies' hearts and minds. We wanted there to be a "first" spaceship named Enterprise to fly in space. Hopefully one day we see that happen!!!

    April 27, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  24. Expedition

    I have a model of Discovery I bought at the Airplane Shop in Fairfiedl NJ a decade ago! It cost $230.00! I said to the salesman, that price has got to be an error, isn't it? He said is it too expensive? I said no, I thought it would have cost at least $1000.00. The model is something out of this world! It has the huge orange color fuel tank attached, about 7 inches in diameter and the rockets at the sides, all in upright flight mode, erected on a large base and ready to blast off! The model weighs about 30 lbs and measures about 30 inches in length! Perhaps the price is now $1000 or more! When people come to my house, they just can't stop staring and touching! Its made of solid mahogany wood and its such an authentic construction, its something out of this world! Its looks like the real thing! If interested in purchasing a model, just google The Airplane Shop! I think there's one in NY and also CA! Good luck!

    April 27, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      is it all painted?

      April 27, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  25. doughnuts

    Cell-phones, iPods, iPads, ion-drive space-probes (yes, they have been built), and dozens of other current-day technology owe their inspiration to Star Trek.

    April 27, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  26. Logic

    Wow, don't you just love that leisure suit look? Hard to imagine that fashion faded...

    April 27, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  27. TheThinker

    [satire]
    I too dream for a future in which we can meet civilizations from other planets, and show them how we can coexist in tollerance and respect because of our inate compassion, empathy, and ability to understand those with whom we don't agree.
    Sadly, Communists are in the White House and Conservatives enjoy killing women and babies, and everyone except me is and idiot.
    [/satire]

    j/k :)

    April 27, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Dreamer96

      But we have the war crazy Klingons, and the greedy Wallstreet Frengies, and the purely logical tax cutters for the already rich...

      April 27, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • geckopelli

      Alas– you're "and" idiot, too!

      April 27, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
      • TheThinker

        DOH!!!

        April 27, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • DavidLevinsn

      I dream of a future where I can try to seduce green women

      April 27, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
      • Cedar Rapids

        You are halfway there David.....you turn women green... :-P

        April 27, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  28. Norm

    I still hope for Rodenberry's future. Still feel a little chill when I hear the words "...where no man has gone before." How about those leisure suits BTW.

    April 27, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  29. J.Crobuzon

    The Enterprise was named after the starship in H. Beam Piper's SPACE VIKING, which also had the planet Hoth and a lot of other recognizable ideas.

    April 27, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • Derek

      The Enterprise is actually named after all of the US Naval ships to hold the name Enterprise/USS Enterprise... the idea was that the name would go on that far into the future, just like it had already been going down through Naval tradition. This is one of many things in Star Trek that take routes in Naval tradition.

      April 27, 2012 at 10:57 am |
      • Jeff

        It actually goes back even farther than that. There was also an HMS Enterprise built 70 years before the first USS Enterprise.

        April 27, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  30. Mark T.

    "The science fiction buffs saw the shuttle as the realization of their dream world."

    A globally-united, focused, fair, extremely technologically advanced future full of exciting new challenges and adventure . . . I'll bet more than a few would sign up for that dream world too. How 'bout this, NASA builds a nuclear-powered ship to take astronauts to Mars and back in 6 months and we put the name Enterprise on it. Then we keep building Enterprises for another 250 years, each representing our best efforts at that time, and see how close we can get to Roddenberry's vision.

    April 27, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      That crosses my mind too, eventually there really could be a starship enterprise, almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.

      April 27, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
      • Rieshell

        Hrmm that was weird, my comment got eaten. Anyway I wanetd to say that it's nice to know that someone else also mentioned this as I had trouble finding the same info elsewhere. This was the first place that told me the answer. Thanks.

        November 11, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  31. Josh

    The shuttle named Enterprise might be a model, but then the shuttle named Challenger would be too.

    April 27, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • Bryce

      I think it had something to do with a Texan named Lyndon B. Johnson. Hold on toyour hats...here's the conspiracy theory.....President Johnson was 1st degree Mason! They're taking over from within!

      April 27, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  32. Duane

    Makes perfect sense, the great geeks inherited this earth.....Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg. All Trek fans themselves

    April 27, 2012 at 9:45 am |

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