In photos: NASA's first space shuttle flight, STS-1 on Columbia

Rare White Shuttle Tank


Separation of space shuttle Columbia's external tank, photographed by motion picture cameras in the umbilical bays, occurred following the shutdown of the vehicle's three main engines after a successful launch on April 12, 1981.

Columbia was one of two NASA shuttle mission to launch with an external tank that was painted white to address aerodynamic heating concerns. After the initial flights, NASA determined the paint was not needed.

The Columbia's cameras were able to record the underside of the tank as the orbiter headed toward its Earth-orbital mission with astronauts John W. Young and Robert L. Crippen aboard, and the fuel tank fell toward Earth, passing through the atmosphere rapidly.

Columbia's First Skipper


Astronaut John W. Young, mans the commander's station in the Columbia during the 36-orbit STS-1 flight. A loose leaf notebook with flight activities data floats in the weightless environment. Young is wearing a three piece constant wear flight suit. This 35mm photo was taken by astronaut Robert L. Crippen between April 12 and April 14, 1981.

View From a Space Plane


Black space and the blue and white planet Earth form the backdrop for this scene of the cargo bay and aft section of the Earth-orbiting space shuttle Columbia, photographed through the flight deck's aft windows. In the lower right corner is one of the vehicle's radiator panels. Small pieces of thermal tiles had earlier been noted missing from the rounded orbital maneuvering system (OMS) pods which flank the vertical stabilizer at left edge of the photograph. A collection of possible support equipment is housed in the box-like devices (lower left) known as the development flight instrument pallet. The pentagon-shaped glare at upper left is caused by window reflection. Inside the spacecraft are astronauts John W. Young and Robert L. Crippen.



The rear wheels of the space shuttle orbiter Columbia touch down on Rogers dry lake at Edwards Air Force Base in southern California to successfully complete a stay in space of more than two days on April 14, 1981. The mission marked the first NASA flight to end with a wheeled landing and represents the beginning of a new age of spaceflight that will employ the same hardware repeatedly.

Home Again


This high angle view shows the scene at Edwards Air Force Base in southern California soon after the successful landing of the space shuttle orbiter Columbia to end STS-1. Service vehicles approach the spacecraft to perform evaluations for safety, egress preparedness, etc. Astronauts John W. Young, commander, and Robert L. Crippen, pilot, are still inside the spacecraft.

Welcome Back, Astronauts


Columbia shuttle astronaut Robert L. Crippen, pilot for the STS-1 flight, exists the the orbiter after a successful landing at Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California on April 14, 1981. Astronaut John W. Young, crew commander, had earlier exited the craft and can be seen standing at the foot of the steps with George W. S. Abbey, director of flight operations at the Johnson Space Center (JSC). Dr. Craig L. Fischer, chief of the medical operations branch in JSC's medical sciences division, follows Crippen down the steps.

Hail Columbia


This head-on photograph of NASA's space shuttle Columbia was taken during post-landing servicing on Rogers dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base in southern California. The STS-1 mission ended earlier today, two and one third days later and thousands of miles removed from Sunday's Florida launch setting. Astronauts John W. Young, commander, and Robert L. Crippen, pilot, were Columbia's first crew.

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