Originally, Enterprise had been intended to be refitted for orbital flight, which would have made it the second space shuttle to fly after Columbia. However, during the construction of Columbia, details of the final design changed, particularly with regard to the weight of the fuselage and wings. Refitting Enterprise for flight would have involved dismantling the orbiter and returning the sections to subcontractors across the country. As this was an expensive proposition, it was determined to be less costly to build Space Shuttle Challenger around a body frame (STA-099) that had been created as a test article. Similarly, Enterprise was considered for refit to replace Space Shuttle Challenger after the latter was destroyed, but Space Shuttle Endeavour was built from structural spares instead.
Construction began on the first orbiter on June 4, 1974. Designated OV-101, it was originally planned to be named Constitution. However, a write-in campaign caused it to be renamed after the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701)featured on the television show Star Trek: The Original Series
The design of OV-101 was not the same as that planned for OV-102, the first flight model; the tail was constructed differently, and it did not have the interfaces to mount OMS pods. A large number of subsystems - ranging from main engines to radar equipment - were not installed on this vehicle, but the capacity to add them in the future was retained. Instead of a Thermal Protection System, its surface was primarily fiberglass.
During summer 1976, the orbiter was used for ground vibration tests, allowing engineers to compare data from an actual flight vehicle with theoretical models.
On September 17, 1976, Enterprise was rolled out of Rockwell International's plant at Palmdale, California]]. In recognition of its fictional namesake, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and most of the cast of the original series of Star Trek were on hand at the dedication ceremony.
With the completion of critical testing, Enterprise was partially disassembled to allow certain components to be reused in other shuttles, then underwent an international tour visiting France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the U.S. states of California, Alabama, and Louisiana (during World Expo 84). It was also used to fit-check the never-used shuttle launch pad, Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 6 at Vandenberg AFB, California. Finally, on November 18, 1985, Enterprise was ferried to Washington, D.C., where it became property of the Smithsonian Institution.<
After the Challenger disaster, NASA had a choice of which shuttle to use as a replacement. Refitting Enterprise with all of the necessary equipment needed for it to be used in space was considered, but instead it was decided to use spares from the fabrication of Discovery and Atlantis to build Endeavour.
In 2003, after the breakup of Columbia during re-entry, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board removed a fiberglass panel from Enterprise's wing to perform analysis of the material. The test involved firing a piece of foam at high velocity at the panel. While the panel was not broken as a result of the test, the impact was enough to permanently deform a seal. As the Reinforced Carbon-Carbon (RCC) panel on Columbia was 2.5 times weaker, this suggested that the RCC leading edge would have been shattered. Additional tests on the fiberglass were canceled in order not to risk damaging the test apparatus, and a panel from Discovery was tested to know the effects of the foam on a similarly-aged RCC leading edge.
On July 7, 2003 a second foam impact test was performed by Southwest Research Institute, which used a foam block of similar size, mass and speed to that which struck Columbia. It created a hole 41 cm by 42.5 cm (16.1 inches by 16.7 inches) in the protective RCC panel. The tests clearly demonstrated that a foam impact of the type Columbia sustained could seriously breach the protective RCC panels on the wing leading edge.
The Columbia Accident Investigation Board determined that this impact caused a breach of a Reinforced Carbon-Carbon panel along the leading edge of Columbia's left wing, allowing super-heated gases generated during re-entry to enter the wing and cause structural collapse. This caused Columbia to spin out of control, breaking up with the loss of all crew.
Museum exhibit Edit
Enterprise was stored at the Smithsonian Institution's hangar at Washington Dulles International Airport before it was restored and moved to the newly-built Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles, where it is the centerpiece of the space collection