BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — Monday marks 40 years since the maiden flight of the space shuttle program.
What You Need To Know
- April 12, is the 40-year anniversary of the first space shuttle flight
- Columbia took off from the Kennedy Space Center at 7 a.m. on April 12, 1981
- The 10-year anniversary of the last shuttle flight is coming up in July
Columbia lifted off from Kennedy Space Center Pad 39-A at 7 a.m. on April 12, 1981, carrying Cmdr. John Young and pilot Robert Crippen for a 2-day mission.
Young was a veteran astronaut and moonwalker, while Crippen was flying to space for the first time.
NASA’s goal was to safely launch and land the orbiter.
“Our job was to take off, get into orbit, check out all the systems on the vehicle, and come in safely for a landing,” Crippen said in a recent NASA interview.
Columbia did come back to Earth safely two days later, with a smooth landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Monday to mark the historic flight, kids at the aptly named Columbia Elementary School in Palm Bay.
The kids launched their own rockets and learned all about that first flight of a program that spanned 30 years.
“We’re building rockets to talk about how the space shuttle left to go to space,” said Columbia Elementary Science teacher Nicole Kuiper.
The anniversary is a prime opportunity for Kuiper to teach her students that the venture took a team and the know how for success.
“I think it’s important for them to know the technology that went into place to make it happen,” she said.
The first shuttle flight was the first time an American spacecraft carried a crew on a test mission.
The 10-year anniversary for the last shuttle mission is coming up in July.
60 years ago: Yuri Gagarin’s 1st spaceflight
Monday also marked another major milestone in spaceflight that happened 20 years before the first space shuttle lifted off.
Gagarin’s steely self-control was a key factor behind the success of his pioneering 108-minute flight. The April 12, 1961, mission encountered glitches and emergencies — from a capsule hatch failing to shut properly just before blastoff to parachute problems in the final moments before touchdown.
Gagarin’s pioneering, single-orbit flight made him a hero in the Soviet Union and an international celebrity. After putting the world’s first satellite into orbit with the successful launch of Sputnik in October 1957, the Soviet space program, rushed to secure its dominance over the United States by putting a man into space.
Gagarin was flown to Moscow to a hero’s welcome, hailed by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and greeted by enthusiastic crowds cheering his flight as a triumph on par with the victory in World War II. In the years before he died at age 34, he basked in international glory, visiting dozens of countries to celebrate his historic mission.
“The colossal propaganda effect of the Sputnik launch and particularly Gagarin’s flight was very important,” Moscow-based aviation and space expert Vadim Lukashevich said. “We suddenly beat America even though our country hadn’t recovered yet from the massive damage and casualties” from World War II.
Gagarin was killed in a training jet crash on March 27, 1968. Not quite 16 months later, the U.S. beat the Soviet Union in the space race, putting an astronaut on the moon.
Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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