NEW YORK – The historic Enterprise space shuttle returned to view Wednesday on the flight deck of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on Manhattan's far west side, protected by a structure designed to hold up in conditions worse than the storm last fall that damaged it.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the end of eight months of repair work for the shuttle, which was damaged during Superstorm Sandy last October when the structure around it deflated.
The pioneering shuttle had surface abrasions and lost a chunk of its vertical stabilizer fin in the storm. High waters shut down the main power supply and backup generators on the floating museum. But on Wednesday the exhibit was finally open.
"It also symbolizes New York's resilience in the recovery after Hurricane Sandy," said museum president Susan Marenoff-Zausner. "Bit by bit, New York and the entire region is recovering from the storm and proving that we are all stronger than ever."
The shuttle is now housed in a steel-framed pavilion designed to withstand much harsher conditions. Upon entering, visitors walked through a soundscape of audio recordings from the original Enterprise test flights.
Though Enterprise was never actually equipped to fly in space, it was used in a numerous test flights and is considered a pioneer to NASA's manned space flight program.
"This was the all-around test vehicle for everything they did," said Eric Boehm, the Intrepid curator of aviation and aircraft restoration, who oversaw the shuttle's restoration after the storm. "Nothing like it existed," he said.
"Without this orbiter there would've been no space shuttle program," said Tim Keyser, a NASA technician who spent a decade working on Enterprise and even helped transport it from Washington, D.C., to New York last year.
Keyser said he was glad to see the shuttle in its new home. "It looks better now than it ever did before," he said.
More than 400 people watched as the shuttle was added to the National Register of Historic Places, the first space shuttle to receive the designation.
"It was always a landmark of the future," said National Register coordinator Kathleen LaFrank. "Its significance was about promise and what we were going to achieve."
But the future of the shuttle remains unclear. Marenoff-Zausner, president of the museum, said that the shuttle would remain there for "a year or two," but acknowledged that the museum was looking at other options for permanent housing.
In the meantime Liam Serota, a 13-year-old from Manhattan with dreams of going to space, marveled up at the towering, newly reopened shuttle.
"It kind of shows American power too," he said. "We're always trying to rebuild, and come back to the top."