10:21 a.m., PST, 14 April 1981: The first space shuttle, Columbia, touches down on Runway 23, Edwards Air Force Base, California, completing the first space flight of the United States’ shuttle program.
With its two-man crew, commander, veteran astronaut John W. Young, and pilot Robert L. Crippen, Columbia traveled 1,074,567 miles (1,729,348 kilometers) on its 37-orbit journey, in 54 hours, 20 minutes, 53 seconds.
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.
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 five 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.
24 February 2011, 21:53:24 UTC: Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) is launched on its final mission, STS-133. The mission was to dock the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module at the International Space Station, as well as to transport other sensors, materials and supplies. The launch had been “scrubbed” five times since 29 October 2010.
Mission STS-133 was commanded by Colonel Steven Wayne Lindsey, United States Air Force. This was Colonel Lindsey’s fifth space shuttle flight. The shuttle pilot was Colonel Eric Allen Boe, U.S. Air Force. There were four Mission Specialists aboard: Nicole Marie Passonno Stott, a structural engineer; Colonel Benjamin Alvin Drew, U.S. Air Force; Michael Reed Barratt, M.D., a NASA Aviation Medical Examiner (“flight surgeon”); and Captain Stephen Gerard Bowen, U.S. Navy.
Captain Bowen, a nuclear attack submarine officer, had replaced Mission Specialist Colonel Timothy Lennart Kopra, U.S. Army, who was injured in a bicycle accident. Bowen is the only NASA astronaut to have flown two consecutive missions. (STS-132 and STS-133)
Discovery docked at the International Space Station at 19:14 UTC, 26 February. Equipment and supplies were transferred.
Leonardo, which had previously been docked at the space station from March 2001 until April 2010, when it was returned to Earth to be modified and upgraded, was installed on the ISS on 1 March. Discovery remained docked at ISS for 8 days, 16 hours, 46 minutes.
The space shuttle returned to Earth on 9 March, landing at the Kennedy Shuttle Landing Facility at 16:58:14 UTC. The total duration of the mission was 12 days, 19 hours, 4 minutes, 50 seconds.
Discovery is the space shuttle fleet leader, having made 39 orbital flights, more than any other shuttle. It has spent 365 days, 22 hours, 39 minutes, 33 seconds in space flight, traveling 148,221,675 miles (238,539,663 kilometers).
On 19 April 2012, Discovery was placed on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
18 February 1977: The prototype space shuttle orbiter Enterprise (OV-101) made its first captive flight aboard NASA 905, the Boeing 747-123 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. On this flight, no one was aboard Enterprise. NASA 905 was flown by Aircraft Commander Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., Pilot Thomas C. McMurty, and Flight Engineers Louis E. Guidry, Jr. and Victor W. Horton.
The duration of the first captive flight was 2 hours, 5 minutes. The Enterprise/SCA combination reached a maximum speed of 287 miles per hour (462 kilometers per hour) and altitude of 16,000 feet (4,877 meters).
NASA describes the photograph above:
The Space Shuttle prototype Enterprise rides smoothly atop NASA’s first Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), NASA 905, during the first of the shuttle program’s Approach and Landing Tests (ALT) at the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, in 1977. During the nearly one year-long series of tests, Enterprise was taken aloft on the SCA to study the aerodynamics of the mated vehicles and, in a series of five free flights, tested the glide and landing characteristics of the orbiter prototype.
In this photo, the main engine area on the aft end of Enterprise is covered with a tail cone to reduce aerodynamic drag that affects the horizontal tail of the SCA, on which tip fins have been installed to increase stability when the aircraft carries an orbiter.
NASA 905 (the airplane’s call sign is based on its FAA registration, N905NA) was originally built by Boeing for American Airlines as a 747-123 airliner, serial number 20107. It was delivered to American 29 October 1970 with the registration N9668. NASA acquired the airliner 18 July 1974 for use in wake vortex studies.
Modification to the SCA configuration began in 1976. Most of the interior was stripped and the fuselage was strengthened. Mounting struts for the space shuttle were added and end plates for additional stability were attached to the horizontal tail plane. The 747 retained the red, white and blue horizontal stripes of American Airlines’ livery until the early 1980s.
The standard Pratt & Whitney JT95-3A high bypass ratio turbofan engines were upgraded to JT9D-7J turbofans. This increased thrust from 46,950 pounds to 50,000 pounds (222.41 kilonewtons) each. The JT9D-7J is a two-spool, axial-flow turbofan engine with a single stage fan section, 14-stage compressor section and 4-stage turbine. This engine has a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 11.6 inches (2.428 meters), is 12 feet, 10.2 inches (3.917 meters) long and weighs 8,850 pounds (4,014 kilograms).
NASA 905 is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). Its empty weight is 318,053 pounds (144,266 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is 710,000 pounds (322,050 kilograms).
While carrying a space shuttle, the SCA maximum speed is 0.6 Mach (443 miles per hour, or 695 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and its range is 1,150 miles (1,850.75 kilometers).
NASA 905 is displayed at Independence Park at Space Center Houston, a science and space learning center in Houston, Texas.
8 February 2012: End of an era. NASA 911, the Boeing 747-146 that has been used as a space shuttle carrier, made its last flight on Wednesday, 8 February 2012, a 20-minute hop from Edwards Air Force Base to Palmdale Plant 42. In 38 years, this airplane accumulated 33,004.1 flight hours, which is relatively low time for an airliner. It will be cannibalized for parts to keep another NASA 747 flying.
NASA 911 (Boeing serial number 20781) made its first flight 31 August 1973, registered as JA8817, and flew in commercial service with Japan Air Lines for fifteen years. It was obtained by NASA in 1989 and turned over to Boeing for modification as the second Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.
The 747-146 SR is a short-range, high-capacity airliner variant produced by Boeing for Japan Air Lines. It was strengthened to handle the additional takeoffs and landings of short-duration flights. Additional structural support was built into the fuselage, wings and landing gear, while the fuel capacity was reduced 20% from that of the standard 747-100. Seven were built between 1973 and 1975.
It is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). Its empty weight is 323,034 pounds (146,526 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight 710,000 pounds (322,050 kilograms).
NASA 911 was equipped with more powerful JT9D-7J engines in place of the standard airplane’s JT9D-7A engines. This increased thrust from 46,950 pounds to 50,000 pounds (222.41 kilonewtons) each. The JT9D-7J is a two-spool, axial-flow turbofan engine with a single stage fan section, 14-stage compressor section and 4-stage turbine. This engine has a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 11.6 inches (2.428 meters), is 12 feet, 10.2 inches (3.917 meters) long and weighs 8,850 pounds (4,014 kilograms).
While carrying a space shuttle, the SCA maximum speed is 0.6 Mach (432 miles per hour, or 695 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and its range is 1,150 miles (1,850.75 kilometers).
NASA 911 is on display at the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark, Palmdale, California.