In the annals of fandom, few stories are as inspiring as the one involving Star Trek fans and the first space shuttle orbiter. This tale underscores the incredible power of a united and determined fan-base, a power that can have tangible, real-world implications and can even shape the course of history. For Star Trek fans, this history is deeply intertwined with our collective fascination with space exploration and the enduring legacy of the TV series itself.
The year was 1976, and NASA was preparing to roll out its first space shuttle orbiter. The intended name for this significant piece of technology was ‘Constitution,’ a nod to the Constitution of the United States. However, fans of Star Trek had a different vision. They launched a write-in campaign urging the White House to name the shuttle after the starship captained by James T. Kirk in the beloved Star Trek TV series – the Enterprise.
Their efforts were not in vain. President Gerald Ford, apparently “partial to the name,” directed NASA officials to change the name, acknowledging the power of public sentiment. The fans had spoken, and their voices had been heard.
When the shuttle Enterprise was unveiled at Rockwell’s Air Force Plant 42, Site 1, in Palmdale, Calif., on Sept. 17, 1976, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and most of the principal cast of the original series were present, a testament to the enduring bond between the show and its dedicated fan base.
The shuttle Enterprise, although built for atmospheric test flights and not equipped for actual spaceflight, represented something profound – a real-world connection between the technological dreams of Star Trek and our human quest for space exploration.
Astronaut and Star Trek fan Mae Jemison once said, “The Star Trek universe was a place where people were just people. It didn’t matter what color you were or what gender you were.” This inclusive vision mirrors the journey of the Enterprise, both the starship and the shuttle, uniting people in their shared quest for exploration and discovery.
Despite never reaching space, Enterprise had an illustrious career. After its retirement from flight, it went on an international tour, was restored at the Smithsonian Institution’s hangar at Washington Dulles International Airport, and became the centerpiece of the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center until replaced by the space shuttle Discovery in 2012. Today, Enterprise resides at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City.
The story of the shuttle Enterprise is more than just a tale of fan activism. It’s a testament to the enduring impact of Star Trek on our culture, science, and technology. This connection is what the Letters 4 Legacy movement is all about. Just as fans in the past had the power to influence the name of a space shuttle, today’s Star Trek fans carry forward that legacy. We continue to be inspired by the vision of a better future for humanity, the same vision that Star Trek has always championed, and that Terry Matalas promises to materialize with Star Trek: Legacy.