HELL'S KITCHEN — It's cleared for takeoff.
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is opening the Space Shuttle Pavilion to the public on Thursday, with the retired NASA Space Shuttle Enterprise serving as the showstopping centerpiece of the highly anticipated exhibit.
The museum's president, Susan Marenoff-Zausner, offered a sneak peek of the spaceship Enterprise, which rode around New York City on top of a Boeing 747 back in April, just a day before the pavilion was set to open.
"We are thrilled with this display," she said. "It gives us a platform to educate the young people of New York and the U.S.A. about the space program. Hopefully the children of today might become the astronauts of tomorrow."
Inside the pavilion off West 46th Street, the Enterprise sits just 10 feet above the Intrepid's deck so people can walk underneath the vessel to marvel at the engineering. The walls of the pavilion are lined with interactive multimedia displays, including a video station that documents the history of the experimental test plane, which later paved America's successful space shuttle program.
"Enterprise was the first space shuttle," Fred Haise, 78, a former test pilot on the Enterprise, told DNAinfo.com New York. "And although it never flew in space, it represents the space shuttle fleet, and it was a real pleasure to pilot this historic spaceship."
Former NASA astronaut and native New Yorker Mario Runco, 60, who served on board space shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour, also attended the preview event Wednesday.
"I hope it proves inspirational for many young people to come and see the Enterprise," Runco said, "and connect with it's legacy and history, and to be inspired to look at technology and our adventures and to take it even further, beyond heights than what we did with the space shuttles."
Museum president Marenoff-Zausner agreed that the new exhibit could inspire a new generation of space enthusiasts.
"Having the Space Shuttle Enterprise here is the first real major artifact representing NASA and the American space program," she said, "[giving] people in New York City and the region the opportunity to be intimately educated and to be a special part space exploration history."