12 April 1981, 12:00:03.867 UTC

Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-1) launch from Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center, 07:00:03 11 April 1981. (NASA)
Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-1) launch from Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center, 07:00:03 11 April 1981. (NASA)

11 April 1981, 12:00:03.867 UTC: Space Shuttle Columbia (OV-102) lifted off from Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, on mission STS-1, the very first orbital flight of the series of reusable space vehicles. Aboard were mission commander John Watts Young and shuttle pilot Robert L. Crippen.

John Young, a former U.S. Navy test pilot and holder of 21 world flight records, was NASA’s most experienced astronaut. He had served as Pilot of Gemini III; backup pilot, Gemini IV; Commander for Gemini 10; Command Module Pilot on Apollo 10; back-up commander for Apollo 13; Commander, Apollo 16; and back-up commander for Apollo 17. Young retired from the Navy in 1976 with the rank of captain.

STS-1 was Bob Crippen’s first space flight.

On 14 April, Columbia landed at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California. It had completed 37 orbits. The total mission duration was 2 days, 6 hours, 20 minutes, 53 seconds.

The flight crew of Columbia (STS-1), John Watts Young and Robert L. Crippen. (NASA)
The flight crew of Columbia (STS-1), John Watts Young (Captain, United States Navy, Retired) and Captain Robert L. Crippen, United States Navy. (NASA)

Columbia was the second of six orbiters built by Rockwell International at Palmdale, California. Construction began 27 March 1975. It was 122.17 feet (37.237 meters) long with a wingspan of 78.06 feet (23.793 meters) and overall height of 56.67 feet (17.273 meters). At rollout, 8 March 1979, OV-102 weighed 159,289 pounds (77,252.3 kilograms), and approximately 178,000 pounds (80,740 kilograms) with its three Rocketdyne RS-25 main engines installed. At launch, the all-up weight of the vehicle was 219,258 pounds (99,453 kilograms).

Columbia was returned to Rockwell for upgrades and modifications from August 1991 to February 1992. It was overhauled and upgraded again at Palmdale in 1994 and 1999.

STS-1 was the first of 135 missions of the Space Shuttle Program. 28 were flown by Columbia (OV-102). During those flights, Columbia spent 300 days, 17 hours, 40 minutes, 22 seconds in space. It completed 4,808 orbits of the Earth and travelled 125,204,911 miles (201,497,772 kilometers).

Columbia was destroyed 1 February 2003 as it disintegrated during reentry. All seven of the astronauts aboard were lost.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 thoughts on “12 April 1981, 12:00:03.867 UTC

  1. Hi, I have scores of now-scanned sepia photos from a relative’s days service days in the Army Air Corps circa 1920’s-30’s

  2. First launch of Columbia took place on April 12, 1981 – twenty years after Gagarin. It was scheduled to occur on the 10th, but a compute glitch grounded the orbiter that day.

  3. I think it’s worth mentioning that the external fuel tank was painted white only for this first mission and STS-2, after which the white paint was omitted saving ~600lbs weight.

  4. 3 RS-25 engines, not 5
    I worked the refit of Columbia, most fascinating job I ever had.

    Kelly Roser

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