By Mathew Murphy
NEW YORK, June 6 (Reuters) - The space shuttle Enterprise, strapped to a barge, cruised past the Statue of Liberty on Wednesday on its way to its new home at a museum on New York's Hudson River.
For a shuttle that never made it into space, Enterprise has had quite a journey. In April, hundreds of tourists and New Yorkers watched in awe as Enterprise flew over the city piggy-backed on a Boeing 747 Jumbo jet.
Enterprise drew more crowds on Wednesday on the banks of the Hudson to watch the NASA spacecraft make its final approach to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on Manhattan's west side.
Despite never flying in space, Enterprise holds a special place in American history having been the first of NASA's space shuttles. In 1977 it was used for a series of approach and landing tests during a nine-month period.
Enterprise was originally to be named Constitution in honor of the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. However, a fierce letter-writing campaign by Star Trek fans convinced White House officials to rename the shuttle Enterprise after the fictitious spaceship that Captain Kirk and Mr Spock flew to the frontlines of an intergalactic battle with the Klingons on the popular TV show.
Experts say Enterprise captured the hearts and minds of many by embodying the best of American ingenuity.
In April last year NASA announced it would retire its space shuttle fleet to locations in New York, Virginia, California and Florida. It decided that Discovery would take Enterprise's place at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Virginia and that Enterprise would be brought to New York.
Since its joy-ride over the city in April, Enterprise has been kept in a protective de-icing tent at JFK International Airport. On Saturday, the 171,000-pound Enterprise was lifted by crane onto a barge, a process that took about three hours.
It toured Queens and Brooklyn on Sunday pulled by a tugboat, passing by Coney Island and traveling under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge before docking in Port Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Officials at Enterprise's new home, the Intrepid Museum, which itself is a repurposed former World War II aircraft carrier, expect the space shuttle to be a major attraction for years to come. (Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Anthony Boadle)