Shuttle Orbiter Columbia (NASA Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV-102) was the first space shuttle in NASA's orbital fleet, first flying mission STS-1 from April 12 to April 14, 1981. On February 1, 2003 Columbia disintegrated during re-entry on its 28th mission, STS-107; all seven crew members aboard were killed.
Construction began on Columbia in 1975 primarily in Palmdale, California. Columbia was named after the Boston-based sloop Columbia captained by American Robert Gray, which explored the Pacific Northwest and became the first American vessel to circumnavigate the world; the name also honoured Columbia, the Command Module of Apollo 11. After construction, the orbiter arrived at John F. Kennedy Space Center on March 25, 1979 to prepare for its first launch. However, before its first mission, two workers were killed and four injured during a ground test of the orbiter on March 19, 1981.
The first flight of Columbia was commanded by John Young (a space veteran from the Gemini and Apollo eras) and piloted by Robert Crippen, a rookie who had never been in space before, but who served as a support crew member for the Skylab missions and Apollo-Soyuz.
In 1983, Columbia launched the first mission (STS-9) with 6 astronauts, including the first non-American astronaut on a space shuttle, Ulf Merbold. On January 12, 1986 Columbia took off with the first Hispanic American astronaut, Dr. Franklin R. Chang-Diaz. Another first was announced on March 5, 1998 when NASA named their choice of U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Eileen Collins as commander of a future Columbia mission making Collins the first woman commander of a space shuttle mission.
Columbia launches on its final mission, STS-107
Main article: Space Shuttle Columbia disaster
On its final mission, the craft was carrying the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon, and the first female astronaut of Indian birth, Kalpana Chawla. Other crew members on the final flight included Rick Husband (commander), Willie McCool (pilot), Michael P. Anderson, Laurel Clark, and David M. Brown.
On the morning of February 1, 2003, the shuttle re-entered the atmosphere after a 16-day scientific mission. NASA lost radio contact at about 9 a.m. EST, only minutes before the expected 09:16 landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Video recordings show the craft breaking up in flames over Texas, at an altitude of approximately 39 miles (63 km) and a speed of 12,500 mph (5.6 km/s).
The collected debris of the vessel are currently stored in decommissioned missile silos at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Space Shuttle Columbia flew 28 flights, spent 300.74-days in space, completed 4,808 orbits, and flew 125,204,911 miles in total, including its final mission.
Shuttle Columbia launches on 1st of March 2002. (NASA)