April 12, 1981 – The Beginning of an Era. The first manned mission of the Space Transportation System (STS-1) COLUMBIA is launched from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. The successful launch thrilled millions, and it was the first time a NASA spacecraft had a manned launch without first having an unmanned test flight.
Aboard the Space Shuttle COLUMBIA were astronauts John Young (Gemini veteran and Moonwalker on Apollo 16) and Robert Crippen. It was the first orbital mission of the Space Shuttle program, the first test flight of the program, and the first Shuttle manned mission.
COLUMBIA would land at Edwards Air Force Base after being in orbit for 2 days and 6 hours. COLUMBIA was the first NASA manned spacecraft to use solid rocket motors (excluding the escape tower motors used in Mercury and Apollo). After COLUMBIA’s first flight, it spent a great deal of time in the Orbiter Proessing Facility, as many of the protective tiles of the Thermal Protection System (TPS) had been damaged or were missing, and needed to be replaced.
Although COLUMBIA will probably be best known for the way the orbiter was lost, today we remember her first voyage.
Metal from the orbiter COLUMBIA from that historic first flight was used in the making of the Space Shuttle Program Commemorative Coins.