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How Nerds Named NASA's Space Shuttle Enterprise
In 1976, NASA's space shuttle Enterprise rolled out of the Palmdale manufacturing facilities and was greeted by NASA officials and cast members from the 'Star Trek' television series. From left to right they are: NASA Administrator Dr. James D. Fletcher; DeForest Kelley, who portrayed Dr. "Bones" McCoy on the series; George Takei (Mr. Sulu); James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott); Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura); Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock); series creator Gene Roddenberry; an unnamed NASA official; and, Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov).
Credit: NASA

The naming of the space shuttle Enterprise involves one of the funniest presidential orders of all time.

Enterprise, the first space shuttle orbiter, was originally to be named Constitution, in honor of the Constitution of the United States. However, "Star Trek" fans started a write-in campaign urging the White House to instead select the name of the starship that James T. Kirk captained in the original TV series. Although President Gerald Ford did not mention the campaign, he directed NASA officials to change the name, saying he was "partial to the name" Enterprise.

In recognition of their namesake, "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry and most of the principal cast of the original series were on hand when the shuttle Enterprise was rolled out of Rockwell's Air Force Plant 42, Site 1, Palmdale, Calif., assembly facility on Sept. 17, 1976.

Enterprise was built for NASA to perform test flights in the atmosphere; lacking engines or a functional heat shield, it was not capable of actual spaceflight. NASA planned to eventually outfit Enterprise for spaceflight and to make it the second space shuttle to fly, after Columbia, but final design plans for the fuselage and wings of the orbiters changed during the construction of Columbia, and refitting Enterprise in accordance with the new plans would have required significant effort: Entire sections would have to be dismantled and shipped across the country to subcontractors. Instead it was deemed less expensive to build the space shuttle Challenger from existing materials.

Once NASA completed its critical tests of Enterprise, the shuttle was retired from flight and partially stripped of certain components for use on other orbiters. It then went on an international tour, and in 1985 it was transported to Washington, D.C., where it was brought into the Smithsonian Institution's hangar at Washington Dulles International Airport for restoration. It was then installed at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at the airport, where it was the museum's centerpiece until it was replaced by the space shuttle Discovery on April 19, 2012.

Enterprise is now bound for its new home at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City.

This story was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to SPACE.com. Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries and join us on Facebook.