From April 1981 through January 1986, 25 Space Shuttle launches were conducted. All four orbiters in the fleet -- Columbia, Challenger, Discovery and Atlantis -- were flown. However, 1 minute, 13 seconds after liftoff -- during the 25th launch --on Jan. 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle exploded. The orbiter Challenger was destroyed and its crew of seven killed. The accident had a far-reaching impact on the Space Shuttle program. Launchings were suspended for more than 2 years, while recommendations of a Presidential Commission which investigated the accident were implemented, along with changes called for by NASA itself.


The first launch of the Space Shuttle occurred on April 12, l98l, when the orbiter Columbia, with two crew members, astronauts John W. Young, commander, and Robert L. Crippen, pilot, lifted off from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, at the Kennedy Space Center.-- the first of 24 launches from Pad A. It was exactly 7 a.m. EST. A launch attempt, 2 days before, was scrubbed because of a timing problem in one of the Columbia's general purpose computers.

Not only was this the first launch of the Space Shuttle, but it marked the first time that solid fuel rockets were used for a U.S. manned launch. The STS-l orbiter, Columbia, also holds the record for the amount of time spent in the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) before launch -- 610 days, time needed for replacement of many of its heat shield tiles.

Primary mission objectives of the maiden flight were to check out the overall Shuttle system, accomplish a safe ascent into orbit and to return to Earth for a safe landing. All of these objectives were met successfully and the Shuttle's worthiness as a space vehicle was verified.

The only payload carried on the mission was a Development Flight Instrumentation (DFI) package which contained sensors and measuring devices to record orbiter performance and the stresses that occurred during launch, ascent, orbital flight, descent and landing.

The 36-orbit, 933,757-mile-long flight lasted 2 days, 6 hours, 20 minutes and 32 seconds. Landing took place on Runway 23 at Edwards AFB, Calif., on April 14, 1981, at 10:21 a.m. PST. Post-flight inspection of the Columbia revealed that an overpressure wave which occurred when the SRB ignited resulted in the loss of 16 heat shield tiles and damage to 148 others. In all other respects, however, Columbia came through the flight with flying colors, and it was to fly the next four Shuttle missions.

Columbia was returned to Kennedy Space Center.from California on April 28 atop its 747 carrier aircraft.


Launch of the second Space Shuttle took place 7 months later, on Nov. 12, 1981, with liftoff at 10:10 a.m. EST. The planned launch time of 7:30 a.m. was delayed while a faulty data transmitting unit on Columbia was replaced. Originally the launch had been set for Oct. 9, but it was delayed by a nitrogen tetroxide spill during loading of the forward Reaction Control System (RCS) tanks. It was next scheduled for Nov. 4, but was again scrubbed when high oil pressures were discovered in two of the three Auxiliary Power Units (APU) that control the orbiter's hydraulic system. Prior to launch Columbia had spent 103 days in the OPF.

The flight marked the first time a manned space vehicle had been reflown with a second crew: Joe H. Engle, commander, and Richard H. Truly, pilot. It again carried the DFI package, as well as the OSTA-l payload -- named for the NASA Office of Space and Terrestrial Applications -- which consisted of a number of remote sensing instruments mounted on a Spacelab pallet in the payload bay. These instruments, including the Shuttle Imaging Radar-A (SIR-1), successfully carried out remote sensing of Earth resources, environmental quality, ocean and weather conditions. In addition, the Canadian-built Remote Manipulator System (RMS) arm was successfully operated in all its various operating modes for the first time.

Although the STS-2 mission had been planned for 5 days, the flight was cut short when one of the three fuel cells that produce electricity and drinking water failed.

Landing took place on Runway 23, at Edwards AFB, at 1:23 p.m. PST, Nov. 14, after a 36-orbit, 933,757-mile flight that lasted 2 days, 6 hours, 13 minutes, 13 seconds.

Despite the truncated flight, more than 90 percent of the mission's objectives were achieved. Moreover, modifications of the water sound suppression system at the pad to absorb the solid rocket booster overpressure wave during launch were effective -- no tiles were lost and only 12 were damaged. The Columbia was flown back to KSC on Nov. 25, 1981.








STS 41-B

STS 41-C

STS 41-D

STS 41-G

STS 51-A

STS 51-C

STS 51-D

STS 51-B

STS 51-G

STS 51-F

STS 51-I

STS 51-J

STS 61-A

STS 61-B

STS 61-C

STS 51-L

Return to KSC Home Page Table of Contents

Information content from the NSTS Shuttle Reference Manual (1988)
Last Hypertexed Thursday August 31 10:21:22 EDT 2000
Jim Dumoulin (