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Remembering Columbia's inaugural flight — NASA's first space shuttle launch

Monday, April 12th 2021, 5:45 am - On this day in weather history, the Columbia launched for its inaugural flight.

Listen to The Weather Network's This Day in Weather History podcast on this topic, here.

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by The Weather Network that features stories about people, communities, and events and how weather impacted them.


On Sunday, Apr. 12, 1981, Space Transportation System-1 launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The shuttle, called Columbia, was NASA's first orbital flight, meaning it travelled around Earth. And it did so 36 times.

The spaceflight was supposed to launch two days earlier, but a technical problem delayed takeoff. So, coincidentally, the Columbia launched exactly 20 years after Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel to space.

Space Shuttle Columbia launching "The Apr. 12 launch at Pad 39A of STS-1, just seconds past 7 a.m., carries 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." Courtesy of NASA/Wikipedia

Aboard the flight was the mission's commander, John W. Young, and the pilot Robert L. Crippen. It was the State's first manned mission since the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project in 1975.

Sts-1 crew "The STS-1 crew members are Commander, John W. Young and Pilot Robert L. Crippen." Courtesy of NASA


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The Challenger was the first aircraft-like shuttle that launched like a rocket and landed like a plane.

After two days, six hours, 20 minutes, and 53 seconds, the Columbia landed, having travelled 1,728,000 km.

Columbia approaches Launch Pad 39A. Courtesy NASA The Columbia approaching Launch Pad 39A. Courtesy of NASA

This mission was the start of regular trips with the Columbia. The space shuttle program was paused in 1986, when the Challenger exploded 74 seconds after launch, killing the seven people aboard.

The Columbia resumed flight and completed 27 missions before disintegrating on re-entry on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2003, during its 28 trips. All seven crew members died.

To learn more about the Columbia, listen to today's episode of "This Day In Weather History."

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by The Weather Network that features unique and informative stories from host Chris Mei.

Subscribe to 'This Day in Weather History': Apple Podcasts | Amazon Alexa | Google Assistant | Spotify | Google Podcasts | iHeartRadio | Overcast'

Thumbnail: Courtesy of NASA

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