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Fri Apr 12, 2019, 04:40 AM

38 Years Ago Today; STS-1 - First flight of Space Shuttle Columbia


The launch of STS-1

STS-1 (Space Transportation System-1) was the first orbital spaceflight of NASA's Space Shuttle program. The first orbiter, Columbia, launched on 12 April 1981 and returned on 14 April, 54.5 hours later, having orbited the Earth 36 times. Columbia carried a crew of two – mission commander John W. Young and pilot Robert L. Crippen. It was the first American manned space flight since the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project in 1975. STS-1 was also the only maiden test flight of a new American spacecraft to carry a crew, though it was preceded by atmospheric testing of the orbiter and ground testing of the space shuttle system.

The launch occurred on the 20th anniversary of the first-ever human spaceflight. This was a coincidence rather than a celebration of the anniversary; a technical problem had prevented STS-1 from launching two days earlier, as was planned.


Mission summary
The first launch of the Space Shuttle occurred on 12 April 1981, exactly 20 years after the first manned space flight, when the orbiter Columbia, with two crew members, astronauts John W. Young, commander, and Robert L. Crippen, pilot, lifted off from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, at the Kennedy Space Center. The launch took place at 7 a.m. EST. A launch attempt two days earlier was scrubbed because Columbia's four primary general purpose computers (GPCs) failed to provide correct timing to the backup flight system (BFS) when the GPCs were scheduled to transition from vehicle checkout to flight configuration mode.


Not only was this the first launch of the Space Shuttle, but it marked the first time that solid-fuel rockets were used for a NASA manned launch (although all of the Mercury and Apollo astronauts had relied on a solid-fuel motor in their escape towers and Mercury capsules had a solid-fueled retrorocket pack). STS-1 was also the first U.S. manned space vehicle launched without an unmanned powered test flight. The STS-1 orbiter, Columbia, also holds the record for the amount of time spent in the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) before launch – 610 days, the time needed for the replacement of many of its heat shield tiles.

The NASA mission objective for the maiden flight was to accomplish a safe ascent into orbit and return to Earth for a safe landing of Orbiter and crew. 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. All 113 flight test objectives were accomplished, and the orbiter's spaceworthiness was verified.


Once on-orbit both crew members safed their ejection seats and unstrapped. The next critical event was payload bay door opening. This was essential to allow heat rejection from Columbia's systems via the doors' space radiators. Failure to open these by the end of the second orbit would have resulted in a return to Earth at the end of the fifth orbit, before the limited capacity of the flash evaporator cooling system was exceeded. As they opened the doors the crew noticed that they had sustained damage to thermal protection system (TPS) tiles on the OMS pods. This was televised to the ground. Shortly afterwards Young, then Crippen doffed their emergency ejection suits.

On the craft's maiden voyage, the crew of space shuttle Columbia took this image that showcases the blackness of space and a blue and white Earth, as well as the cargo bay and aft section of the shuttle. The image was photographed through the flight deck's aft windows. In the lower right corner is one of the vehicle's radiator panels. The pentagon-shaped object in the upper left is glare caused by window reflection.


Young again took manual control for the remainder of the flight as they went subsonic approaching the Heading Alignment Circle (HAC). A wide left turn was flown to line up with lake bed runway 23, whilst T-38 "Chase 1", crewed by astronauts Jon McBride and "Pinky" Nelson joined formation. Main gear touch down occurred on runway 23 at Edwards Air Force Base, at 183 knots equivalent airspeed, slightly slower and around half a mile further down the runway than planned. This was the result of a combination of better than predicted Orbiter lift-to-drag ratios and tail wind. Touch down time was 10:21am PST on 14 April 1981. As they rolled to a stop a pleased John Young remarked over the radio:

This is the world's greatest all electric flying machine. I'll tell you that. That was super!

Columbia was returned to Kennedy Space Center from California on 28 April atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. The 36-orbit, 1,074,567-mile (1,729,348 km)-long flight lasted 2 days, 6 hours, 20 minutes and 53 seconds.


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