Space Shuttle Columbia is delivered, March 25, 1979

-March 25, 2017

The first fully functional Space Shuttle orbiter, Columbia, was delivered to the John F Kennedy Space Center to be prepared for its first launch on March 25, 1979.

Construction began on Columbia in 1975 at Rockwell International's principal assembly facility outside Los Angeles.

As the second orbiter to be constructed, yet the first able to fly into space, Columbia was roughly 8,000 lb heavier than subsequent orbiters such as Endeavour. Later orbiters were of a slightly different design and had benefited from advances in materials technology.

Columbia was originally scheduled to lift off in late 1979, however the launch date was pushed back after problems with both the SSME components and the thermal protection system.

It would take its first mission, STS-1, on April 12, 1981. In total, Columbia flew 28 flights, spent 300.74 days in space, completed 4,808 orbits, and flew 125,204,911 miles (201,497,772 km), including its final mission.

Columbia was the only shuttle to have been space worthy during both the Shuttle-Mir and International Space Station (ISS) programs, but never visited either Mir or ISS.

On February 1, 2003, Columbia was destroyed upon atmospheric re-entry. An independent panel commissioned by NASA determined that the accident was caused by foam insulation breaking off from the Shuttle, forming debris that damaged the wing. The problem of "debris shedding" was well known but considered "acceptable" by management.

Had Columbia not been destroyed, its career would have begun to wind down after STS-118, a 2007 mission to the ISS that was instead flown by the orbiter Endeavour. Also, Columbia was to service the Hubble Space Telescope two more times in 2004 and in 2005, but no more missions were planned for it again until 2009.

Columbia launching for STS-109 to repair the Hubble Space telescope, its final successful mission before STS-107. Photo: NASA

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Editor's note
: This article was originally posted on March 25, 2013 and edited on March 25, 2017.

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