From: millersville, maryland, usa
Registered: Jul 2004
posted March 20, 2011 09:18 AM
Space Cover of the Week, Week 101 (March 20, 2011)
Space shuttle Columbia was ready to go with its crew of commander John Young and pilot Bob Crippen on board and Columbia, OV-102, poised for launch April 10, 1981 at LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida. However, the flight was scrubbed due to timing skew in the shuttle's general purpose computer (GPC) system. GPC backup software had failed to synchronize with the primary software system. The Columbia scrub cover is shown with thanks to Bob McLeod.
Things were quite different at 7:00 am EST, the morning of April 12, 1981, as Columbia and the STS-1 crew blasted-off from LC-39A into a clear blue sky for the first operational flight of the space shuttle into Earth orbit with a 156 mile high orbit. The cover pictured on the launch date is signed by John Young and Bob Crippen and is one of the most difficult space shuttle crew autographed covers to obtain. The Columbia STS-1 crew signed NASA Exchange cover is from the collection of Bob McLeod.
Space Cover #101, Hail Columbia! Steve Durst, SU 4379
The flight of Columbia was the first time that a new spacecraft was launched manned on its first flight. Many industry and aerospace experts thought the flight could be a disaster. This shakedown flight for Columbia was the real test of what was considered to be the most complex spacecraft ever built. At this time, Columbia was the only space shuttle in NASA's inventory. There were no backup shuttles. The shuttle was scheduled to make the first five flights of the space shuttle program. If Columbia's flight with Young and Crippen ended in disaster, it could very well be the end of this high profile spacecraft with its ET and SRB rocket boosters described by space shuttle astronaut Story Musgrave, "Like bolting a butterfly onto a bullet"
NASA officials had given the spacecraft the unwieldy name, Space Transportation System (STS), but President Richard Nixon and other high level officials in 1972 had called it the space shuttle due to its mission requirement to shuttle back and forth into space and Earth orbit. Young and Crippen's mission was basic: to demonstrate safe launch into orbit and safe return of the orbiter and crew and to verify the combined performance of the entire shuttle vehicle--orbiter, solid rocket boosters and external tank. In the immediate future, shuttle crews would be able to launch, service, and recover unmanned satellites. They would also be able to perform experiments, conduct research, and perform shuttle operations in Earth orbit. They would be able to refresh crews and resupply equipment modules that they themselves had brought to space via the shuttle.
Upon mission completion, the space shuttle crew would deorbit the shuttle, return back to Earth, and with the shuttle unpowered, would land the shuttle on a designated runway similar to a commercial aircraft. Two payloads were carried on Columbia's first flight including the Developmental Flight Instrumentation (DFI) and the Aerodynamic Coefficient Identifications Package (ACIP) pallet containing equipment for recording temperatures, pressures, and acceleration levels at various points on the vehicle.
After 37 Earth orbits and traversing 1.07 million miles during its 2 day, 6 hour and 20 minute flight, Young and Crippen expertly land Columbia at 10:21 am PST, April 14, 1981, on runway 23, Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California, completing Columbia's epic mission. Post flight engineering checks of the shuttle revealed an SRB induced overpressure wave had caused the loss of 16 heat shield tiles and damage to another 148 thermal tiles. The SRB overpressure wave had also forced the body flap below the main engines at the rear of the shuttle well past the point where damage to the shuttle hydraulic system would be expected. If damaged, this would have made a safe shuttle reentry impossible. Young later commented that if they had been aware of the potential damage at the time, the crew would have flown the shuttle to a safe altitude and ejected, causing Columbia to have been lost on the first flight. Young also noted a protruding tile gap filler had ducted hot gas into the right main landing gear well, causing significant damage including buckling of the landing gear and its door. However, in spite of these anomalies, Columbia and its STS-1 crew of John Young and Bob Crippen had performed well, landed successfully as planned, and had met all of their flight objectives on the shuttle's maiden flight. Columbia had come through with flying colors.
A few weeks from now, April 12, 2011, will mark the 30th anniversary of Columbia's first flight and the first operational flight of NASA's Space Shuttle Program. Hail Columbia!
Arrival of Columbia's crew of John Young (foreground with wife Suzy) and Bob Crippen (rear with wife Virginia) at Edwards Air Force Base, California, upon successful completion of Columbia's maiden flight, April 14, 1981. Photo credit NASA-JSC.