2018 May 24
More than three decades after it was built at North American Rockwell in Palmdale, California, the Space Shuttle Enterprise went on public display on July 19 at its final resting place at the Intrepid Museum in New York. One of my many memories of the U.S. space program is the day back in late 1975 when wings were joined to Enterprise's fuselage.
NASA announced that a media event would be held at North American Rockwell's facility at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale to mark the milestone. My friend Richard and I decided to attend. Early that morning, we departed Torrance Airport in Richard's North American Navion and headed to William Fox field near Palmdale. After landing, Richard rented a car and we drove to Plant 42.
After we cleared security, our public relations contact escorted us into a large, clean, well-lit hanger. And there it was: Enterprise sitting in front of us. It was big and impressive.
We were taken up to a small conference room above the hanger floor for a briefing. There were few people there and my friend and I were the only news media. I suddenly realized that the man sitting next to me in a business suit was veteran astronaut John Young.
The briefing was informal and short. I have no recollection of what it was about or what was said.
Several minutes later, Richard and I were taken down to the hanger floor and were led into Enterprise's cargo bay from the rear of the spacecraft (the tail assembly was not yet mounted to the craft). I remember seeing several arms and legs in white nylon smocks protruding into the cargo bay. Their owners were mostly hidden from view as they worked within the craft's various recesses.
Although we went to the facility to see Enterprise's wings be joined to its fuselage, we did not actually see that milestone. After a few minutes inside the cargo bay, we departed Plant 42 for William Fox field and the flight home.
However, what was supposed to be a routine flight proved to be otherwise. Just as we became airborne and began climbing, Richard had his right hand on the throttle and other levers on the center console between our seats. As he moved the controls, the panel containing the levers suddenly came out of the console. Even worse, at least one of the cables had come off of its lever.
I thought I was going to die. Richard just shrugged it off and said something to the effect that this had happened before. He then proceeded to connect the cable and reattach the panel to the console as we gained altitude. We later safely arrived at Torrance Airport.
A few years later, I went to Edwards AFB and attended all, or nearly all, of the flight tests of Enterprise atop the 747 carrier aircraft. I also managed to cross paths with John Young a few more times as I attended various events in the Space Shuttle program.
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