Also today, 30 years of Space Shuttle flight

STS-1 Patch
It was also today , 12th April, that the first Space Shuttle was launched.
The ill fated space shuttle Columbia,named after the first American ocean vessel to circle the globe and the command module for the Apollo 11 Moon landing, made its first on 12th April 1981, thus ushering in the era of the space shuttle, NASA's longest-running manned spaceflight program. Now, NASA is preparing to close out the shuttle era
(only 2 flights remain).

The first flight of Columbia (STS-1) was commanded by John Young, a Gemini and Apollo veteran who was the ninth person to walk on the Moon in 1972, and piloted by Robert Crippen, a rookie astronaut originally selected to fly on the military's Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) spacecraft, but transferred to NASA after its cancellation, and served as a support crew member for the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz missions.

Since the early 1970s and the end of Apollo, NASA had been working on designs for a re-usable space vehicle. The new vehicle would come to be officially referred to as the space transportation system (STS), the designation all shuttle missions would carry on their flights.

With the space shuttle, the rocket was no longer the only way to travel into space. In addition, the shuttle provided payload space that was unimaginable with a rocket, with room for over 50,000 pounds of cargo. The reusable nature combined with ample cargo space would go on to revolutionize spaceflight, making it possible to launch satellites without rockets and build massive structures (like the International Space Station) in space.

Columbia lifts off for the first time from Kennedy Space Center on April 12, 1981. Credit: NASA

Since that morning on April 12th, NASA space shuttles have been rocketing from the Florida coast into Earth orbit. The five orbiters — Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour — have flown more than 130 times, carrying over 350 people into space and travelling more than half a billion miles, more than enough to reach Jupiter. Designed to return to Earth and land like a giant glider, the shuttle was the world's first reusable space vehicle. More than all of that, though, the shuttle program expanded the limits of human achievement and broadened our understanding of our world.

Columbia final Flight

Columbia and its crew were tragically lost during STS-107 in 2003. As the Space Shuttle lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on January 16, a small portion of foam broke away from the orange external fuel tank and struck the orbiter's left wing. The resulting damage created a hole in the wing's leading edge, which caused the vehicle to break apart during reentry to Earth's atmosphere on February 1st.

As from today the space shuttle will do two last flights and the program will come to a halt. Endeavour is now scheduled to blast off April 29, and on June 28th this year, Atlantis will do the last flight of this wonderfull machines.

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