The second shuttle mission was launched from the Kennedy Space Center on November 12, 1981 (EST) and landed at Edwards Air Force Base on November 14 at 10:09AM (PST). Columbia orbited 37 times at an altitude of 157 nautical miles at an inclination of 38 degrees and travelled 1,075 million miles. The mission duration was 2 days, 6 hours, 13 minutes, and 12 seconds.

This second flight served to further verify the safety of Columbia in launch, orbit, re-entry, and landing. Payloads included the Orbital Flight Test Pallet consisting of the Measurement of Air Pollution from Satellite (MAPS) experiment, the Shuttle Multispectral Infrared Radiometer (SMIRR) experiment, the Shuttle Imaging Radar (SIR-A) experiment, the Features Identification and Location Experiment (FILE) and the Ocean Color Experiment (OCE). Also included was the 11,048 lb. Development Flight Instrumentation (DFI) pallet, the Aerodynamic Coefficient Identification Package (ACIP), the Induced Environment Contamination Monitor (IECM) and the 5,395 lb. Office of Space and Terrestrial Applications Pallet (OSTA-1).

The launch was originally scheduled for October 9, but was delayed by a nitrogen tetroxide spill. It was delayed again on November 4 for a low reading on fuel cell oxygen tank pressure. High oil pressures were discovered in two of three auxiliary power units and forced a third rescheduling. The system designed to absorb the overpressure wave that caused loss of heat tiles during the previous mission were fixed. No tiles were lost on this mission and only 12 were damaged.

The mission was planned for five days, but was cut by nearly three days by a failure in one of the three fuel cells that produced electricity and drinking water. The mission was still a success. 90% of objectives were achieved, including the first Earth observation experiments from Spacelab and first use of the remote manipulator system.

Columbia was crewed by Commander Joe H. Engle and Pilot Richard H. Truly.