By Mathew Murphy
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The space shuttle Enterprise - named after the spaceship in Star Trek - achieved lift-off on Wednesday when it was hoisted by a crane onto a floating museum in New York's Hudson River.
Cheers and thunderous applause erupted from the crowd of New Yorkers and tourists who turned out to see the retired spacecraft moved to its new home atop the flight deck of repurposed World War Two aircraft carrier now named the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
"Beam me up, Scotty!" a man in the crowd shouted as a crane lifted the shuttle off a barge onto the museum, repeating a catch phrase from the popular science fiction television show.
"It's part of our history," said New Yorker Cameron Fisher, 21.
The crowd grew quiet and the air was filled with the creaking of the crane and beating of a helicopter circling overhead as the shuttle rose 230 feet into the air.
"It inspires people to see what human ingenuity can achieve," said British tourist Kirsty Rushen, 35.
Earlier Wednesday, as the shuttle, strapped to a barge, made its way up the Hudson River and past the Statue of Liberty, crowds ranging from small children to elderly couples strained for a glimpse of the craft.
"Did you see the shuttle?" said a police officer running up to his uniformed colleagues like an excited child.
APRIL FLIGHT OVER CITY
For a shuttle that never made it into space, Enterprise has had quite a journey. In April, crowds 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 its new floating home 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 released in mid-air from a Boeing 747 for a series of gliding and landing tests at Edwards Air Force base in California prior to the first shuttle flight in 1981.
Enterprise was originally going to be named Constitution in honor of the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. But a fierce letter-writing campaign by Star Trek fans convinced the White House to name it Enterprise after the fictitious spaceship that Captain Kirk and Mr Spock flew to the front lines 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 tent at JFK International Airport. On Saturday, the 171,000-pound (77,564-kg) Enterprise was lifted by crane onto a barge, a process that took about three hours.
Pulled by a tugboat, it toured Queens and Brooklyn on Sunday, 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 Two aircraft carrier, expect the space shuttle to be a major attraction for years to come.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Eric Walsh)