The anniversary of the first space shuttle launch is here: on April 12, 1981, at 7:00:03am, Space Shuttle Columbia lifted off from its launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Columbia carried a crew of two: Mission Commander John W. Young and Pilot Robert L. Crippen. 54.5 hours later, after orbiting the Earth 37 times, the space shuttle returned to Earth at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The first launch was designated STS-1, short for Space Transportation System-1.
The primary mission objectives of the maiden flight were to perform a general check out of the Space Shuttle system, accomplish a safe ascent into orbit and to return to Earth for a safe landing. The only payload carried on the mission was a Development Flight Instrumentation (DFI) package, which contained sensors and measuring devices to record the orbiter’s performance and the stresses that occurred during launch, ascent, orbital flight, descent and landing. According to NASA, all of the spacecraft’s mission objectives were met successfully and the space shuttle’s space-worthiness was verified.
On the second day of the mission, Vice President George H.W. Bush phoned the astronauts and congratulated them on their voyage to space. President Ronald Reagan was initially scheduled to visit Mission Control for the mission, but couldn’t; he was recovering from an assassination attempt which had happened 2 weeks prior.
The launch occurred on the 20th anniversary of first ever human space flight. The mission lasted 2 days, 6 hours, 20 minutes, and 53 seconds; the shuttle traveled 1,074,000 miles.
STS-1 and the follow-up flight of STS-2 were the only two shuttle flights to have the External Tank painted white. To reduce the shuttle’s overall weight by 600 pounds, all flights from STS-3 onward used an unpainted tank, leaving behind the iconic orange color known today.
The Space Shuttle’s maiden voyage lifted off from historic Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, the same pad NASA used to send astronauts to the moon. Launch Pad 39A is now used by Space X, with plans to re-use the historic pad again in the future to bring mankind to Mars.