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Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 20:06 EDT

NASA Celebrates 30 Years Of The Space Shuttle

April 12, 2011

On April 12, 1981, 20 years after Yuri Gagarin became the first human to reach space, NASA embarked on a new journey that would pave the way for space travel for three decades.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of space shuttle Columbia becoming the first-ever reusable spacecraft after successfully piercing through the atmosphere to carry two astronauts into space.

Columbia spent two days in space before performing a deorbit burn bringing the astronauts back on the same vessel they left on.

The space shuttle floated beyond this planet riding atop twin booster rockets that created 7 million pounds of thrust, ripping through the sky at 17,000 miles-per-hour.

After 30 years, the space shuttle program will be shutting down once Atlantis makes its final round to space this summer. 

It is only fitting for such an occasion to remember some of the historical moments the program has brought to United States citizens.

In 1983, Challenger helped not only to battle science and physics, but also discriminatory lines by sending Sally Ride and Guion Bluford on a life-altering journey to become the first woman and first African American in space.

Discovery took man to new heights in 1990 by taking the Hubble Telescope into space, extending our eyes well beyond the places we could travel.

Eight years later the first two models of the International Space Station were joined together by astronauts who rode aboard the space shuttle Endeavour.

But these memories of good moments cannot come without reflecting on some of the disasters the shuttle program has seen.

Space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after lift-off in 1986.  Anboard this ill-fated mission on January 28 were astronauts Francis R. Scobee, Michael Smith, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis and private citizen Sharon Christa McAuliffe.

Seventeen years later space shuttle Columbia took the lives of astronauts Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael P. Anderson, Laurel B. Clark and Ilan Ramon after the spacecraft disintegrated during re-entry.

No one knew the memories that would ensue once Columbia left Launch Complex 39 for the first time in history 30 years ago, but one thing is for certain:  the legacy of the U.S. space program would be lacking if it was not for the journey aboard these spacecraft.

So without further ado, lets wish a proper Happy Birthday and farewell to the 30-year-old program that has pushed mankind to new limits and territories.

Image Caption: The April 12 launch at Pad 39A of STS-1, just seconds past 7 a.m., carried astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen into an Earth orbital mission scheduled to last for 54 hours, ending with unpowered landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

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