NEW YORK – Look! Up in the sky! It's a ... space shuttle?
An unusual flying object came to New York from Washington on Friday -- the space shuttle Enterprise.
Enterprise zoomed around the city, riding piggyback on top of a modified jumbo jet. Its trip included flyovers over parts of the city and landmarks including the Statue of Liberty and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on Manhattan's west side, before landing at its temporary home, Kennedy Airport.
"Touchdown at JFK!" NASA declared on Twitter.
At the Kennedy tower, air traffic controllers had been busy fielding inquiries from circling pilots, who were informed they'd be delayed from landing because of "special activity." Some wondered how much longer they would be in the air. Others asked where they should look to get the best view.
When the big event occurred, the controller said to the shuttle craft: "Welcome to New York, and thanks for the show."
A little earlier, as the shuttle passed Manhattan, people gathered on rooftops to gawk. It was chased through the air by a NASA plane, and in the Hudson River by numerous ferries and other boats.
A few dozen people gathered on the deck of its future permanent home, the Intrepid. The crowd cheered and applauded and snapped pictures as the shuttle flew over the river. About five minutes later, the shuttle turned around, again flying past the aircraft carrier. Dozens more lined the pier by the ferry terminal.
Onlookers bundled up on a blustery spring day crowds gathered along piers, cameras slung around their necks. The roar of the aircraft could barely be heard over the howling winds.
"There it goes: Space Shuttle Enterprise flying over," tweeted Lincoln Center. "An amazing view!"
The shuttle also flew over central Long Island. Nassau County office workers looked out their windows and marveled as it passed over the Roosevelt Field Mall, located near a former airfield where Charles Lindbergh took off for Paris in 1927.
The shuttle had been scheduled to arrive earlier in the week, but NASA pushed it back because of bad weather.
The shuttle prototype was housed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington but will soon be making its home at the Intrepid, where it will be "the largest and most significant space artifact in the entire Northeast," said Susan Marenoff-Zausner, Intrepid's president.
That won't happen right away; after its fly-around, the Enterprise is heading to Kennedy Airport, where it will remain for a few weeks until it's taken off the 747 jet it rode to New York.
After that, Marenoff-Zausner said, it will be put on a barge in early June and brought up the Hudson River to the Intrepid, where it will be put on the flight deck and a pavilion over it will be completed. The museum anticipates opening the shuttle exhibit to the public in mid-July.
"When somebody comes to visit, they will not only see the shuttle itself, but will have an engaging and interactive experience inside the pavilion," she said.
Enterprise comes to New York as part of NASA's process of wrapping up the shuttle program, which ended last summer. At the Smithsonian, its place has been taken by the shuttle Discovery. Shuttle Endeavor is going to Los Angeles and shuttle Atlantis is staying at Florida's Kennedy Space Center.
Enterprise has never been used in an actual space mission, but was a full-scale test vehicle used for flights in the atmosphere and experiments on the ground.
That doesn't make Intrepid any less excited about having it, Marenoff-Zausner said.
"This is an institution in American history," she said, adding, "This tested so many different things that without it, travel into space would never have happened."
She is confident the public will feel the same way and anticipates interest in the shuttle will increase the number of annual visitors by about 30 percent, to 1.3 million over the course of a year.
The public's interest is what drove the Intrepid to find a way to display it even though a permanent display location still has to be found, Marenoff-Zausner said.
The initial plan was to leave it at the airport for a couple of years until its permanent home was set, she said, but "we want the public to be able to experience this immediately."
In order to do that, Intrepid had to do some shuffling around of its collection. Last week, three aircraft were taken off the flight deck and sent to the Empire State Aerosciences Museum in Glenville, N.Y.