April 12, 2013
NASA Columbia Space Shuttle Launched 32 Years Ago Today
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Thirty-two years ago today, the world got a little smaller as the best access man has ever had to space began when the first space shuttle launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
April 12, 1981 Space Shuttle Columbia launched on the STS-1 mission, kickstarting over 30 years of science exploration, as well as a few tragic moments.
Astronaut John Young was the mission commander that day. He was a veteran of four previous spaceflights and was just one of a few men to have ever walked on the moon. He was also accompanied by navy test pilot Bob Crippen, who was the first space shuttle pilot, said NASA in a statement.
That glorious day was the beginning of the world's first re-usable spacecraft, capable of carrying large crews and plenty of payload to space. Without this amazing space transportation system, instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope wouldn't have been assembled.
For thirty years, the space shuttle program proudly boasted the beauty of American engineering, helping to build structures like the International Space Station, and deploy satellites. The program also saw its tragedies when Challenger took the lives of seven astronauts in 1986 and Columbia the same in 2003. The shuttles actively explored the heavens from American soil for over three decades, until Space Shuttle Atlantis flew its final flight on July 8, 2011.
For nearly two years now the skies above the US have been silent after the program's retirement. However, there is a breeze in the air and a new wind is coming as private companies rush to try and become the first to create a vehicle to send people to space from the US since 2011.
NASA has three companies working under contract through May 30, 2014 to develop the next system to launch astronauts from home. The space agency said back in January it is establishing standards for companies to go by for commercial crew systems. Companies like Boeing, United Launch Alliance and SpaceX are all working on their own vision of what future flight may look like.
What the future holds for these upcoming commercial spaceflight systems is unclear, but what is very clear is there is still a gaping hole that has been left since the retirement of a program that first touched the skies 32 years ago today. Healthy competition between companies rushing to be the first to the heavens could provide some astonishing results, but the American innovation that took place as Columbia began its first mission will never be a fading memory. Instead, it will be remembered as a milestone from which all other future engineers look to for inspiration.