Image: Intrepid Museum
Mario Tama  /  Getty Images
Visitors walk beneath the prototype space shuttle Enterprise during a press preview at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum's new Space Shuttle Pavilion on Wednesday. The pavilion opens to the public on Thursday.
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updated 7/18/2012 10:32:23 PM ET 2012-07-19T02:32:23

The last time some New Yorkers saw the space shuttle Enterprise, it was zipping around the city, riding piggyback on top of a modified jumbo jet past the Statue of Liberty and other local landmarks.

Others got to lay eyes on it as it sailed up the Hudson River on a barge.

Today, following its April and June sojourns, the piece of NASA history is on the move no more.

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The Enterprise, a 150,000-pound mammoth of a flying machine, goes on public display Thursday at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum's new Space Shuttle Pavilion. Encased in the center of an accommodating inflatable dome, the shuttle is available for visitors to admire up close from just feet away.

At 57 feet (17 meters) wide and 137 feet (42 meters) long — with a 78-foot (24-meter) wingspan to boot — the Enterprise is an imposing figure with quite a presence in its new home.

The prototype space shuttle, which was built in 1976, was NASA's first. Though it never actually flew a mission into outer space, it performed critical tests in Earth's atmosphere and is widely credited with paving the way for five space shuttles that followed.

Of the six shuttles that NASA built, only four remain: Enterprise plus Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. The other two experienced disasters during their missions, killing their crews: Challenger exploded in 1986 and Columbia disintegrated in 2003.

President Richard Nixon first announced NASA's intention to build the shuttle fleet in 1972 amid heightened tensions during the Cold War. With U.S. officials fearing the Soviet Union would dominate the novel realm of space travel, the shuttle was designed to be a reusable spacecraft that could also land safely — allowing NASA to conduct launches more frequently and with greater efficiency.

Previous spacecraft couldn't make a runway landing, nor could they be reused for future missions.

Enterprise was given its name as the result of a petition campaign led by fans of the "Star Trek" TV show, which featured a starship by the same name.

When tests including the Enterprise began in 1977, the shuttle would sit atop a 747 carrier aircraft that helped get it off the ground. Once it reached an altitude of hundreds of thousands of feet, the Enterprise would separate from the plane, and two pilots would glide the shuttle for several minutes before making a smooth landing. This was thanks in part to an aerodynamically designed tail cone.

Fred Haise, an Apollo 13 astronaut who piloted the Enterprise on five flights, said flying the shuttle was "nearly perfect."

"It's something exciting, especially when you put five years of development into getting it ready," said Haise, 78.

Image: Enterprise
Frank Franklin II  /  AP
Museumgoers snap pictures of the space shuttle Enterprise sits on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum's Space Shuttle Pavilion.

Of the moment right after his first takeoff in the Enterprise, Haise said: "I was immediately happy and grateful."

The Enterprise exhibit is expected to boost attendance at the Intrepid museum by a third, bringing nearly 1.3 million people a year to the repurposed World War II aircraft carrier docked on Manhattan's West Side. The museum, which opened in 1982, houses an array of historic aircraft, including bombers, spy planes and the Concorde, plus a space-flown Russian Soyuz capsule and the USS Growler, a strategic missile submarine that visitors can tour.

For years, the Enterprise had been on exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum near Washington, but it was transferred to the Intrepid museum to make room for Discovery. Endeavour is destined to go on display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, while Atlantis will make its home at Kennedy Space Center's visitor center in Florida.

Jessica Williams, Intrepid's curator of history, said the Enterprise is a worthy addition to her museum's lineup. "This is an amazing, original space-related artifact, the prototype for all space shuttles, so it really adds an even deeper exploration of the American space program to the museum," she said.

Officials said the Enterprise will be parked on the Intrepid's deck for two to three years, after which time the museum will build it permanent housing.

Pictures from the Enterprise's journey:

This report also includes information from Reuters and NBCNews.com.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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