Space Shuttle Columbia w/ SRB Wood Model
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Construction began on Columbia in 1975 at Rockwell International's (formerly North American Aviation/North American Rockwell, now Boeing North America) principal assembly facility in Palmdale, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Columbia was named after the American sloop Columbia Rediviva which, from 1787 to 1793, under the command of Captain Robert Gray, explored the US Pacific Northwest and became the first American vessel to circumnavigate the globe. It is also named after the Command Module of Apollo 11, the first manned landing on another celestial body. Also, in Jules Verne's 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, the moonshot is accomplished by firing the spacecraft from a giant cannon in Florida called a columbiad. After construction, the orbiter arrived at Kennedy Space Center on March 25, 1979, to prepare for its first launch. Columbia was originally scheduled to lift off in late 1979, however the launch date was delayed by problems with both the SSME components, as well as the thermal protection system (TPS). On March 19, 1981, during preparations for a ground test, workers were asphyxiated while working in Columbia's nitrogen-purged aft engine compartment, resulting in (variously reported) two or three fatalities. The first flight of Columbia (STS-1) was commanded by John Young, a Gemini and Apollo veteran who was the ninth person to walk on the Moon in 1972, and piloted by Robert Crippen, a rookie astronaut originally selected to fly on the military's Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) spacecraft, but transferred to NASA after its cancellation, and served as a support crew member for the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz missions. Columbia spent 610 days in the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF), another thirty-five days in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), and 105 days on Pad 39A before finally lifting off. Columbia was successfully launched on April 12, 1981, the 20th anniversary of the first human spaceflight (Vostok 1), and returned on April 14, 1981, after orbiting the Earth 36 times, landing on the dry lakebed runway at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Columbia then undertook three further research missions to test its technical characteristics and performance. Its first operational mission, with a four-man crew, was STS-5, which launched on November 11, 1982. At this point Columbia was joined by Challenger, which performed the next three shuttle missions, while Columbia underwent modifications for the first Spacelab mission.