12/04/81: Columbia Space Shuttle launched

On Sunday 12 April 1981 the Columbia Space Shuttle was launched into space for the first time. The shuttle program was officially referred to as the Space Transportation System (STS), giving this flight the name STS-1. Launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission had a two-person crew: commander, John Young, a veteran of Gemini and Apollo, and the pilot, Bob Crippen.

The Columbia shuttle was the first "re-usable" spacecraft which was to launch like a rocket and land like an aircraft. The two solid rocket boosters that helped push the shuttle into space would also be re-used, after being recovered from the ocean. Only the massive external fuel tank would burn up as it fell back to Earth.

The mission was a success and the shuttle returned safely to Earth on 14 April. The program would go on complete twenty-seven successful missions into space, although its twenty-eighth and final mission resulted in tragedy as it burned up on re-entry in February 2003, killing its seven crew members.

Twenty years previously, on April 12, 1961, the era of human spaceflight began when Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth in his Vostock I spacecraft. The flight lasted 108 minutes.

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