By Joseph O'Leary
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Enterprise has landed in New York City, where starting on Thursday the public will be allowed a close-up look at the first, prototype space shuttle created by NASA in 1976.
The Enterprise exhibit is expected to boost attendance at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum by a third and help bring nearly 1.3 million people a year to the repurposed World War Two aircraft carrier docked on Manhattan's West Side.
"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," said Jessica Williams, Intrepid's curator of history.
The floating Intrepid museum, which opened in 1982, already draws nearly 1 million visitors each year.
Located within a protective gray dome, the Enterprise is suspended 10 feet above the carrier deck, allowing visitors to walk underneath. The 137-foot (42-meter) vehicle has a 78-foot (23-meter) wingspan.
Built in 1976, the Enterprise was the first space shuttle NASA created. It never went to space, however, and was used instead as a prototype to test the effects of gravity, crosswind landings and vibration during takeoff, said museum aviation and aircraft restoration curator Eric Boehm.
The shuttle was also occasionally used as a "spare parts bird" for other shuttles, Boehm said.
The new Enterprise exhibit features a seven-minute film, narrated by Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy. The shuttle was named after the spacecraft in the Star Trek television series.
The Intrepid museum houses an array of historic aircraft, including bombers, spy planes and the Concorde, spacecraft including a Soviet Soyuz re-entry capsule and the USS Growler, a strategic missile submarine open for visitors to tour.
The Enterprise arrived in New York from Virginia in April, when delighted crowds watched it fly over the city piggy-backed on top of a Boeing 747 Jumbo jet.
It was housed at John F. Kennedy International Airport until June, when it was moved to the Intrepid.
Officials said the shuttle will be parked on the Intrepid's deck for two to three years, after which time the museum will build it permanent housing.
(Reporting by Joseph O'Leary, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Todd Eastham)