Neil Genzlinger says Enterprise is “regifted”

Neil Genzlinger’s article on the Enterprise Shuttle perpetuates the culturally corrosive view that museum artifacts and art in general are mere objects for our consumption. To Genzlinger, The Enterprize, a prototype shuttle recently given to the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, is nothing more than a “federal hand-me-down” or an outdated chunk of trash unworthy of “a prime piece of riverfront property.”

The Enterprise, though, is a bit of a downgrade; it’s a prototype that never actually flew in space, never docked with anything and never harbored Sigourney Weaver and slimy parasitic aliens. From there it’s just a short step to federal junk with no historic value at all — misprinted tax forms, past-date hardtack, obsolete nuclear missiles.

Oh, silly material journalist! Writers of all people should know that the objects themselves are unimportant compared to the stories they can connect us with. No, the Enterprise never docked with a space station, but it was an integral step in the development of shuttles that could. Few people will ever have the opportunity to see a real live space shuttle or even a prototype of one. But the experience of inhabiting the same room as a spacecraft, seeing its scale, its components, materials– THAT physical connection to the history of space exploration could ignite a child’s imagination (hell, it would probably ignite mine).

Mr. Genzlinger, I suggest you get out from behind your Macbook Air and try to gain a little perspective on what our culture should value. It isn’t always the shiniest and newest gadgets that tell the best stories.

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One Comment on “Neil Genzlinger says Enterprise is “regifted””

  1. Si roth says:

    We saw Enterprise in Huntsville, AL. It was essentially an engineering prototype for the program: it was built like the subsequent
    shuttles, but was the first test of putting the entire system together – solid
    rocket boosters, external tank & orbiter. Lessons learned during construction
    & testing were used to adjust designs & procedures for the later orbiters.
    It was then used for stress & shake tests at MSFC ( & perhaps elsewhere ).
    Such tests are typically done to a large fraction of a system’s theoretical
    design limits.

    The Enterprise was also used for the initial flight-worthiness ‘drop’ tests,
    where the orbiter was released from the top of a 747 at high altitude & flown
    back to earth.

    Once a device is tested like that it would be unwise to trust it for a real
    space flight mission, so it was retired in the early eighties. It’s been at a
    Smithson facility for the past few years.

    The one we have in Huntsville is called the Pathfinder, and is a full-sized
    wood & plywood model they used to help design & test the hardware used to
    transport orbiters while on the ground. ‘Can we tow this thing down this road
    and thru that gate?’ Etc.


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