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News On 6 Employee Shares Rare Film Of Space Shuttle's First Tulsa Visit

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Parts of the Space Shuttle Enterprise were built in Tulsa [photo: NASA] Parts of the Space Shuttle Enterprise were built in Tulsa [photo: NASA]
Ron Bonsack works behind the scenes in The News On 6 production department. Ron Bonsack works behind the scenes in The News On 6 production department.

NewsOn6.com

TULSA, OK --  A News On 6 employee is sharing rare film footage he and some friends shot of the space shuttle Enterprise when it stopped in Tulsa more than 30 years ago.

Ron Bonsack, who works behind the scenes in The News On 6 production department, says he was 16-years-old when he and three friends went to Tulsa International Airport to see the Enterprise atop its special Boeing 747 carrier aircraft in August of 1979.

He decided to go after seeing a brief story on the news about it the night before.  He and his friends were big Star Trek fans, so being able to see NASA's version of the Enterprise was a thrill. 

Bonsack says the shuttle program struck a chord with him and his friends, not just because they were Trekkers, but because the Apollo program had just ended.

"We were so saddened when they phased out the Apollo program, so when NASA came out and unveiled the space shuttle, this sleek design, we were just ecstatic."

Bonsack and his friends got to the airport two hours before Enterprise was scheduled to arrive, and were surprised at how small the crowd was, which is evident in the film.

Tulsa had two connections to the shuttle program back then.  Parts of the shuttle were built at the Rockwell plant here, and the carrier aircraft was a former American Airlines 747.  Bonsack says the American Airlines folks were extremely proud that day.

Bonsack says the film was shot on an 8 millimeter camera that had been a gift from his mother. 

The footage sat in a box for decades, until he saw a story last week on The News On 6 about the space shuttle program coming to an end, and on the Tulsa Air and Space Museum's efforts to land one of the retired shuttles.

4/20/2010 Related story: Tulsa's High Hopes To Land Space Shuttle

He dug out the footage, had it transferred to tape then used his home computer to clean it up and burn it onto a DVD.

"I can't believe that I've had this footage all this time and never done anything with it."

He's still close friends with one of the boys in the film, but has lost track of one of them.

"The shuttle itself is something to be proud of.  It's sad that it's coming to an end.  It was amazing then and it's amazing now."

The Enterprise, the first shuttle built, was designed as a test vehicle and was not equipped for space flight.  It allowed NASA to investigate how the shuttle design would work inside the earth's atmosphere, and for crews to practice attaching solid rocket boosters and the huge external fuel tank.

Bonsack and his friends saw Enterprise when it made a stop in Tulsa on August 12th, 1979, before leaving for Denver the next day.

As the film shows, Enterprise was fitted with a special tail cone to minimize drag and turbulence while NASA tested its aerodynamic qualities.

Parts of Enterprise, officially known by NASA as OV-101, had been built in Tulsa and the stop was a chance for Rockwell employees here to see the finished product up close.

Read more about the history of the shuttle Enterprise.

According to NASA's web site, Enterprise was being carried from Florida back to the Rockwell factory in Palmdale, California, so that some of its parts could be refurbished and installed on the fleet of space-faring shuttles that were being assembled at the time.

In the early 80s Enterprise made visits to France, Germany, Italy, England and Canada, as well as the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans, before being donated to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. in 1985.

See Enterprise in its current home at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. 

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