The United States entered a new era in space exploration when the space shuttle, Columbia, an airplane-like spaceship, completed its first flight.
It was seven o’clock the morning of April 12, 1981, at Cape Canaveral, Florida, when the flame of the first solid-fuel rocket booster could be seen. It was exciting to see an airplane, mounted on the back of the fuel tank and rocket boosters, with its nose pointed toward the outer limits of the earth’s atmosphere! And it was even more exciting to know that two men, astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen, would soon be piloting the spacecraft’s thirty-six orbits around the earth!
Men and women, girls and boys—over 600,000 of them—gathered at the Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch. Not only did they see the flames and billowing clouds of smoke as the shuttle lifted off its launchpad, they heard the rumbling staccato-like noise. And they felt the noise, too, as sound waves rocked their bodies. People as far as sixty miles away reported hearing the impressive rumble.
Don Lind, a Latter-day Saint astronaut, said, “The space shuttle is the logical first step to all the things we are going to do in the next hundred years.” Some of the projects he suggested as possibilities were a permanent base on the moon, a manned trip to Mars, or a space station in earth orbit. “The space shuttle is the transportation system in any one of those programs,” he added.
The shuttle can take men back and forth into space much like an airplane carries people from one place to another.
Previous manned space flights have usually been in spacecraft that could never be reused. But most of this shuttle is reusable for up to 100 flights. It is a complex system, requiring the skills of men with computers.
The flight in April 1981 was the first of four test flights that will be made. Another flight was made in the fall of 1981, and two more are scheduled for this year.
When all of the problems are worked out of its system, the shuttle will begin to carry astronauts to retrieve and repair satellites, scientists to conduct experiments aboard a space laboratory, and a space telescope to better observe distant galaxies. Astronaut Lind is looking forward to conducting experiments aboard the space lab and admits, “I’m excited!” So are many other people who watch and dream of the heavens above and all of Heavenly Father’s works.
When Columbia landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California, after fifty-four hours in space, a new era in space had indeed begun.