of the Space Shuttle
Shuttle Reference Manual
Approach and Landing Tests
Shuttle Mission Archive
Click here for the JSC Shuttle Approach and Landing Test Image server.
Enterprise, the first Space Shuttle Orbiter, was originally to be named
Constitution (in honor of the U.S. Constitution's Bicentennial). However,
viewers of the popular TV Science Fiction show Star Trek started a write-in
campaign urging the White House to rename the vehicle to Enterprise.
Designated, OV-101, the vehicle was rolled out of Rockwell's Air Force
Plant 42, Site 1 Palmdale California assembly facility on Sept. 17, 1976.
On Jan. 31, 1977, it was transported 36 miles overland from Rockwell's
assembly facility to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Facility at Edwards Air
Force Base for the approach and landing test program.
The nine-month-long ALT program was conducted from February
through November 1977 at the Dryden Flight Research Facility
and demonstrated that the orbiter could fly in the atmosphere
and land like an airplane, except without power-gliding flight.
In the day-to-day world of Shuttle operations and processing, Space Shuttle orbiters go by a more prosaic designation. Atlantis is commonly
referred to as OV-104, for Orbiter Vehicle-104. Empty Weight was 151,315 lbs at rollout and 171,000 lbs with main engines installed.
Two NASA astronaut crews-Fred Haise and Gordon Fullerton and
Joe Engle and Dick Truly-took turns flying the 150,000-pound
spacecraft to free-flight landings.
The ALT program involved ground tests and flight tests. The ground
tests included taxi tests of the 747 shuttle carrier aircraft with the
Enterprise mated atop the SCA to determine structural loads and responses
and assess the mated capability in ground handling and control
characteristics up to flight takeoff speed. The taxi tests also
validated 747 steering and braking with the orbiter attached. A ground
test of orbiter systems followed the unmanned captive tests. All orbiter
systems were activated as they would be in atmospheric flight. This was
the final preparation for the manned captive flight phase.
Five captive flights of the Enterprise mounted atop the SCA
with the Enterprise unmanned and Enterprise's systems inert
were conducted to assess the structural integrity and performance
handling qualities of the mated craft.
Three manned captive flights that followed the five captive
flights included an astronaut crew aboard the orbiter operating
its flight control systems while the orbiter remained perched
atop the SCA. These flights were designed to exercise and
evaluate all systems in the flight environment in preparation
for the orbiter release (free) flights. They included flutter
tests of the mated craft at low and high speed, a separation
trajectory test and a dress rehearsal for the first orbiter
In the five free flights the astronaut crew separated the
spacecraft from the SCA and maneuvered to a landing at Edwards
Air Force Base. In the first four such flights the landing was
on a dry lake bed; in the fifth, the landing was on Edwards'
main concrete runway under conditions simulating a return from
space. The last two free flights were made without the tail
cone, which is the spacecraft's configuration during an actual
landing from Earth orbit. These flights verified the orbiter's
pilot-guided approach and landing capability; demonstrated the
orbiter's subsonic terminal area energy management autoland
approach capability; and verified the orbiter's subsonic
airworthiness, integrated system operation and selected
subsystems in preparation for the first manned orbital flight.
The flights demonstrated the orbiter's ability to approach and
land safely with a minimum gross weight and using several
For all of the captive flights and the first three free
flights, the orbiter was outfitted with a tail cone covering
its aft section to reduce aerodynamic drag and turbulence. The
final two free flights were without the tail cone, and the
three simulated space shuttle main engines and two orbital
maneuvering system engines were exposed aerodynamically.
The final phase of the ALT program prepared the spacecraft for
four ferry flights. Fluid systems were drained and purged, the
tail cone was reinstalled, and elevon locks were installed. The
forward attachment strut was replaced to lower the orbiter's
cant from 6 to 3 degrees. This reduces drag to the mated
vehicles during the ferry flights.
After the ferry flight tests, OV-101 was returned to the NASA
hangar at the Dryden Flight Research Facility and modified for
vertical ground vibration tests at the Marshall Space Flight
Center, Huntsville, Ala.
On March 13, 1978, the Enterprise was ferried atop the SCA to
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, where it was mated with
the external tank and solid rocket boosters and subjected to a
series of vertical ground vibration tests. These tested the
mated configuration's critical structural dynamic response
modes, which were assessed against analytical math models used
to design the various element interfaces.
These were completed in March 1979. On April 10, 1979, the
Enterprise was ferried to the Kennedy Space Center. mated with
the external tank and solid rocket boosters and transported via
the mobile launcher platform to Launch Complex 39-A. At Launch
Complex 39-A, the Enterprise served as a practice and launch
complex fit-check verification tool representing the flight
It was ferried back to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Facility
on Aug. 16, 1979, and then returned overland to Rockwell's
Palmdale final assembly facility on Oct. 30, 1979. Certain
components were refurbished for use on flight vehicles being
assembled at Palmdale. The Enterprise was then returned
overland to the Dryden Flight Research Facility on Sept. 6,
During May and June of 1983, Enterprise was ferried to the
Paris, France, Air Show, as well as to Germany, Italy, England
and Canada, and was returned to the Dryden Flight Research
In the April-October 1984 time period, Enterprise was ferried
to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and to Mobile, Ala.
From there it was taken by barge to New Orleans, La., for the
United States 1984 World's Fair.
In November 1984 it was ferried to Vandenberg Air Force Base
and used as a practice and fit-check verification tool. On May
24, 1985, Enterprise was ferried from Vandenberg Air Force Base
to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Facility.
On Sept. 20, 1985, Enterprise was ferried from Dryden Flight
Research Facility to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On
Nov. 18, 1985, Enterprise was ferried from the Kennedy Space
Center to Dulles Airport, Washington, D.C., and became the
property of the Smithsonian Institution. The Enterprise was
built as a test vehicle and is not equipped for space flight.
Following in the
Enterprise's, the orbiter Columbia was created and it became the first Space Shuttle to fly into Earth orbit in 1981. Four sister ships joined the fleet over the next 10 years:
Challenger, arriving in 1982 but destroyed four years later;
Atlantis, 1985; and
Endeavour, built as a replacement for
In the day-to-day world of Shuttle operations and processing, Space Shuttle orbiters go by a more prosaic designation. Enterprise is commonly
referred to as OV-101, for Orbiter Vehicle-101.
Start structural assembly of Crew Module
Start structural assembly of aft-fuselage
May 23, 1975
Wings arrive at Palmdale from Grumman
Start of Final Assembly
Completed final assembly
Rollout from Palmdale
Overland transport from Palmdale to Edwards
Delivery to Kennedy Space Center
15, 1977 (Max speed 89 Mph)
15, 1977 (Max speed 140 Mph)
15, 1977 (Max speed 157 Mph)