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Space Shuttle Columbia

By Marty McDowell/NASA
November 22, 2001

Update: Tragically, the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart over the Southern United States during reentry on February 1, 2003.

Columbia, the oldest orbiter in the Shuttle fleet, is named after the Boston, Massachusetts based sloop captained by American Robert Gray. On May 11, 1792, Gray and his crew maneuvered the Columbia past the dangerous sandbar at the mouth of a river extending more than 1,000 miles through what is today south-eastern British Columbia, Canada, and the Washington-Oregon border. The river was later named after the ship. Gray also led Columbia and its crew on the first American circumnavigation of the globe, carrying a cargo of otter skins to Canton, China, and then returning to Boston.

Other sailing ships have further enhanced the luster of the name Columbia. The first U.S. Navy ship to circle the globe bore that title, as did the command module for Apollo 11, the first lunar landing mission.

On a more directly patriotic note, "Columbia" is considered to be the feminine personification of the United States. The name is derived from that of another famous explorer, Christopher Columbus.

The spaceship Columbia has continued the pioneering legacy of its forebears, becoming the first Space Shuttle to fly into Earth orbit in 1981. Four sister ships joined the fleet over the next 10 years: Challenger, arriving in 1982 but destroyed four years later; Discovery, 1983; Atlantis, 1985; and Endeavour, built as a replacement for Challenger, 1991. A test vehicle, the Enterprise, was used for suborbital approach and landing tests and did not fly in space. The names of Columbia's sister ships each boast their own illustrious pedigree.

In the day-to-day world of Shuttle operations and processing, Space Shuttle orbiters go by a more prosaic designation. Columbia is commonly referred to as OV-102, for Orbiter Vehicle-102. Empty Weight was 158,289 lbs at rollout and 178,000 lbs with main engines installed.

Upgrades and Features

Columbia was the first on-line orbiter to undergo the scheduled inspection and retrofit program. It was transported August 10, 1991, after its completion of mission STS-40, to prime Shuttle contractor Rockwell International's Palmdale, California assembly plant. The oldest orbiter in the fleet underwent approximately 50 modifications, including the addition of carbon brakes, drag chute, improved nose wheel steering, removal of development flight instrumentation and an enhancement of its thermal protection system. The orbiter returned to KSC February 9, 1992 to begin processing for mission STS-50 in June of that year.

On October 8, 1994, Columbia was transported to Palmdale California for its first ODMP. This orbiter modification and refurbishment time is expected to take approximately 6 months.

On September 24, 1999, Columbia was transported to Palmdale California for its second ODMP. While in California, workers will perform more than 100 modifications on the vehicle. Columbia will be the second orbiter outfitted with the multi-functional electronic display system (MEDS) or "glass cockpit". Last year, Shuttle Atlantis had the full-color, flat-panel displays installed on its flight deck during an OMDP. The new system improves crew interaction with the orbiter during flight and reduces the high cost of maintaining the outdated electromechanical cockpit displays currently onboard.

  Images

Columbia after first landing, 5-22-81, courtesy of NASA

Construction Milestones

07/26/72 Contract Award
03/27/75 Start long lead fabrication aft fuselage
11/17/75 Start long-lead fabrication of crew module
06/28/76 Start assembly of crew module
09/13/76 Start structural assembly of aft-fuselage
12/13/76 Start assembly upper forward fuselage
01/03/77 Start assembly vertical stabilizer
08/26/77 Wings arrive at Palmdale from Grumman
10/28/77 Lower forward fuselage on dock, Palmdale
11/07/77 Start of Final Assembly
02/24/78 Body flap on dock, Palmdale
04/28/78 Forward payload bay doors on dock, Palmdale
05/26/78 Upper forward fuselage mate
07/07/78 Complete mate forward and aft payload bay doors
09/11/78 Complete forward RCS
02/03/79 Complete combined systems test, Palmdale
02/16/79 Airlock on dock, Palmdale
03/05/79 Complete postcheckout
03/08/79 Closeout inspection, Final Acceptance Palmdale
03/08/79 Rollout from Palmdale to Dryden (38 miles)
03/12/79 Overland transport from Palmdale to Edwards
03/20/79 SCA Ferry Flight from DFRF to Bigs AFB, Texas
03/22/79 SCA Ferry flight from Bigs AFB to Kelly AFB, Texas
03/24/79 SCA Ferry flight from Kelly AFB to Eglin AFB, Florida
03/24/79 SCA Ferry flight from Eglin, AFB to KSC
11/03/79 Auxiliary Power Unit hot fire tests, OPF KSC
12/16/79 Orbiter integrated test start, KSC
01/14/80 Orbiter integrated test complete, KSC
02/20/81 Flight Readiness Firing
04/12/81 First Flight (STS-1)

Columbia's Flights (through 1999)

01. STS-1 (04/12/81)
02. STS-2 (11/12/81)
03. STS-3 (03/22/82)
04. STS-4 (06/27/82)
05. STS-5 (11/11/82)
06. STS-9 (11/28/83)
07. 61-C (01/12/86)
08. STS-28 (08/08/89)
09. STS-32 (01/09/90)
10. STS-35 (12/02/90)
11. STS-40 (06/05/91)
12. STS-50 (06/25/92)
13. STS-52 (10/22/92)
14. STS-55 (04/26/93)
15. STS-58 (10/18/93)
16. STS-62 (3/4/94)
17. STS-65 (7/8/94)
18. STS-73 (10/20/95)
19. STS-75 (2/22/96)
20. STS-78 (6/20/96)
21. STS-80 (11/19/96)
22. STS-83 (04/04/97)
23. STS-94 (07/01/97)
24. STS-87 (11/19/97)
25. STS-90 (4/13/98)
26. STS-93 (7/23/99)
To OMDP (Palmdale) 9/23/99

Source: NASA.

 

Share Your Memories!

What do you remember about Space Shuttle Columbia? Have you any compelling stories to share? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"During the Space Shuttle Mission STS-55, the Pilot of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Terence T. "Tom" Henricks (Col. USAF) took a picture of Guam from space on May 2, 1993. I was fortunate enough to received a copy of the picture, which I will always treasurer. I received the picture during the crew of Mission STS-55 courtesy visit to the members of the U.S. House of Representative on July, 14, 1993. At that time I was doing an Intership with the U.S. House of Representatives. I was able to meet Col. Henricks and some of the crew members of Mission STS-55, soon afterward, one of the NASA representative handed me the picture that was taken by Col. Henricks. As they said, the rest is history. Although, I have never seen the Space Shuttle Columbia, I would never forget that its window once took a peek over Guam, and that Col. Henricks was able to take a picture of my home. So to make the story, I am grateful for such mission, which I will never forget and the connection I have with the Space Shuttle Columbia, of course, forever grateful to Col. Henricks."

--A.O. Antolin, Jr.



Space References (Books):
Dickinson, Terence. Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe. Firefly Books, 1998.
Greene, Brian. Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. Vintage, 2000.
Hawking, Stephen. Illustrated Brief History of Time, Updated and Expanded Edition. Bantam, 1996.
Hawking, Stephen. Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe. New Millenium, 2002.
Hawking, Stephen. The Universe in a Nutshell. Bantam, 2001.
Kaku, Michio. Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps and the Tenth Dimension.
Kranz, Gene. Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond. Berkley Pub Group, 2001.
Sagan, Carl; Druyan, Ann. Comet, Revised Edition. Ballantine, 1997
Sagan, Carl. Cosmos, Reissue Edition. Ballantine, 1993
Sagan, Carl. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. Ballantine, 1997

Space References (Videos):
Cosmos. PBS, 2000.
Stephen Hawking's Universe. PBS, 1997.
Hyperspace. BBC, 2002.
Life Beyond Earth PBS, 1999.
The Planets
. BBC, 1999.
Understanding The Universe. A&E, 1996.

 

SPACE SPECS

Courtesy of NASA


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