Aug 12th 2010 By Alex Moisi
In honor of AOL's Geek Awards on Aug. 18, we've declared it Geek History Month. Embrace your roots, as we revisit some important events in technology, gaming, sci-fi and more.
The construction of Space Shuttle Enterprise
is probably one of the greatest achievements accomplished in the name of geekdom. Not only was the orbiter the first re-usable space shuttle, a rocket type which has since been used for dozens of space missions, the way the ship was named showed the entire world that if enough geeks unite they can change history.
As we celebrate 33 years since the SS Enterprise took its first flight
, let's explore at exactly how things went down.
Soon after the Apollo mission
successfully proved the moon was not made out of cheese, the U.S. government realized that space flight was going to become a lot more common, especially if you wanted a bunch of satellites and an International Space Station
. This was awesome for scientists and rocket manufacturers, but it would mean that things would get very expensive, very fast. A few tons of fuel, thousands of dollars worth of special equipment and months of training -- before you know it your budget has a huge rocket-shaped sinkhole.
The solution seemed obvious. Create some sort of bus system that could regularly ferry equipment and people into orbit, bring them back in one piece and then be easy to re-use.
Inspired by this idea, NASA launched the Space Shuttle Program
, completing the first ship on Sept. 17, 1976. The first space shuttle was supposed to be named "Constitution." While we agree that the founding document of the United States is a monumental achievement, it's simply not the right thing to name a spaceship.
And we weren't the only ones to think so; in fact about 200,000 people agreed with us
. That's how many wrote directly to president Gerald Ford demanding that NASA change the name of the space ship to "Enterprise."
In the "Star Trek
" series, all ships were named after famous space shuttles of the past. So, in a paradoxical way, by naming a real-life shuttle after the Star Trek ship, NASA validated its plot line by providing an explanation for where the Enterprise name came from. If that makes perfect sense to you, congratulations, you're a true Star Trek fan.
Ironically enough, the Space Shuttle Enterprise never actually flew "where no man has gone before." It never even left the Earth's orbit. Since it was the first shuttle in the program, it was meant more as a prototype, a testing unit for Space Shuttle Columbia
, which followed it a few years later.
Originally, NASA wanted to retrofit Enterprise and make it space-ready, but engineers abandoned the plan when they realized that building a new ship, Challenger
, would end up being cheaper. And so the fate of the Enterprise was sealed after only 16 tests, including only five flights, the first one of which took place on August 12, 1977.
Once the tests were complete, the shuttle was donated to the Smithsonian institute
where Star Trek fans regularly visit it. Pictures and footage of the ship were included in later "Star Trek" episodes, and several cast members can be seen in photos outside the real Enterprise.
And this was all possible because Star Trek fans are seriously dedicated people.