40 years since launch: A look back at Space Shuttle Columbia(21 images)
The first mission of Space Shuttle Columbia, the first shuttle sent into space, launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 12, 1981. Over 20 years, that shuttle completed 28 missions, spent over 300 days in space, carried dozens of astronauts and evolved with technological advancements. Columbia's missions ended February 1, 2003, when seven astronauts died during the shuttle's re-entry.
This is an early morning scene at the Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39, with the space shuttle Columbia in position on Pad A at right in March 1981. The shuttle was launched on April 12, 1981, with astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen aboard. Photo courtesy of NASA
Space shuttle Columbia lifts off, marking the first shuttle orbital launch, on April 12, 1981, from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo courtesy of NASA
Young (L), the commander, and Crippen, the pilot, were the Columbia crew for the first orbital flight of the space shuttle. Photo courtesy of NASA
The entrance to the "Rubber Room" under Launch Complex 39A opens 32 years to the day since NASA launched space shuttle Columbia on its maiden voyage. The space agency is making final preparations to close down the pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 12, 2013. Photo by Joe Marino-Bill Cantrell/UPI
This is a view inside the "Rubber Room" under Launch Complex 39A that could have kept Apollo-era astronauts and technicians safe from hazards on the pad during launch operations. Photo by Joe Marino-Bill Cantrell/UPI
Columbia lifts off on July 23, 1999, from Launch Pad 39B on a five-day mission. The plan was to release the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which would allow scientists from around the world to study some of the most distant, powerful and dynamic objects in the universe. Photo courtesy of NASA