STS -1 (English Space Transportation System) is the mission name for the first flight of the U.S. Space Shuttle Columbia ( OV -102) from NASA. The launch took place on 12 April 1981. It was the first space flight of a reusable space vehicle.

  • 3.1 Delivery of a half-finished orbiter
  • 3.2 rehearsal with the Enterprise
  • 3.3 doubts about the heat protection tiles
  • 3.4 The first simulation
  • 3.5 Further Work
  • 3.6 Installation and rollout
  • 4.1 The first launch attempt, April 10, 1981
  • 4.2 Start and first flight day, April 12, 1981
  • 4.3 second flight day, April 13, 1981
  • 4.4 Third day of flying and landing, April 14, 1981


  • John Young ( fifth space flight), Commander
  • Robert Crippen ( first space flight), Pilot

Backup crew

  • Joe Engle, commander
  • Richard Truly, pilot

Mission overview

The main objective of the flight was to review the entire flight systems. This test consisted Columbia excellent. Unlike previous manned space projects such as Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, in which at least one unmanned test flight was conducted, has foregone the Space Shuttle. Although many systems have previously been examined individually, but there was no flight in which the interaction of all systems was tested. To put this first space shuttle flight a novelty in human spaceflight is and at the same time meant an increased risk.

It was the fifth space flight to the Commander Young, who reached the first spaceman that brand.

The only payload of the mission was composed of sensors and measuring instruments to record a flight control system DFI (Development Flight Instrumentation) data on all critical flight segments.

STS -1 was next STS- 2 is the only mission in which the external tank was painted white. To save weight, omitted from the NASA STS-3 on it. The rust brown color that is seen from 1982, comes from the sprayed-on insulating foam.

NASA refers to STS -1 today as the " boldest test flight in history " ( "the boldest test flight in history" ).


Delivery of a half-finished orbiter

On March 24, 1979 hit the Columbia, coming from the manufacturer, at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC ) a. The transportation was on the back of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a modified Boeing 747 Rockwell International had built the orbiter in the past four years in its production plants in California. The next day the Columbia was transferred to the OPF production hall ( Orbiter Processing Facility ), where it was prepared for its maiden flight.

Due to problems in the manufacturing process, the ferry was delivered with an only half-finished heat shield. This covers the entire underside of the orbiter and protects it during re-entry from the extreme temperatures. About 8,000 of the 31,000 tiles were missing. To prepare parallel to the work on the Columbia label for the maiden flight, it was decided to bring the heat protection tiles in Florida. For the transfer of 5,000 dummy tiles were installed to prevent tearing of the real tiles due to air turbulence. Before the ferry flight ( " Ferry Flight" ) demonstrated the aircraft Orbiter team through a short test flight. In addition, the stress and adhesion of the tile dummies was tested on a T -38 machine.

During the cross-country flight nevertheless fell off some plastic dummies. This real heat protection tiles were damaged or even also demolished. In addition to that the adhesive used a separation of the dummies from the orbiter made ​​more difficult than expected. Overall, had, in addition to the release of the dummy tiles, nearly 11,000 tiles in Florida nachgeklebt.

The work on the tiles were sluggish, although several hundred specially Rockwell employees were parked up to the Kennedy Space Center. In addition, some important components had to be delivered and integrated into the Space Shuttle. Thus, the Columbia had been passed without main engines and OMS engines without NASA. These were further subjected to extensive load and calibration tests. Even over a thousand transmitters to the ferry had to be installed, which should provide important parameters concerning the condition during the first flight. In total, more than one hundred major points were open on the work schedules, as the Columbia Florida reached.

These delays and problems with the suppliers and the false financial planning at NASA were the intended start date continues to slide rearward initially was named as a planning date of STS- 1 March 1979, when the space shuttle left the factory halls, marked the start of the 9 November. provided in 1979.

Rehearsal with the Enterprise

In April 1979, NASA flew the test ferry from Enterprise Alabama to the Kennedy Space Center. With it, the theoretical concepts should be confronted with the reality. The official "Facility Verification Vehicle" called test run - for NASA engineers was the Pathfinder test - should help determine whether the mainly originating from the Apollo program and rebuilt for the Space Shuttle technology would actually work as planned. The space- disabled glider was in the VAB assembly building ( Vehicle Assembly Building ) connected with prototypes of external tank and solid rocket boosters.

A shuttle has been moved to the launch pad May 1, 1979 for the first time. There were important to the enterprise tests were conducted to provide the suitability of the modifications to the test: adjusted the access levels of the tower start exactly? Handed the white space, through which the astronauts entered the space shuttle, the hatch zoom? Could the RSS Platform ( Rotating Service Structure ) can be swiveled easily to the orbiter? And the fuel supply was tested by liquid hydrogen and oxygen have been pumped from the storage tank via the conduits to the launch platform. After nearly three months ending rehearsal of ramp systems, the Shuttle configuration in the VAB was dismantled and flown the Enterprise to Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Beginning in June 1979 gave NASA administrator Robert Frosch before the U.S. Congress announced the maiden flight was postponed to the next year - but gave no date. At a hearing three weeks later he was specific with respect to a Senate committee: end of March 1980 had the earliest possible date, a start end of June but likely.

Doubts about the heat protection tiles

John Yardley, director of the shuttle program, explained in September 1979, NASA would have doubts about the adhesion of the attached to the Columbia heat protection tiles. Subsequently, extensive stress tests were arranged. We became aware of this problem in June during the gluing in the OPF. In early October, launched a review of one third of the Columbia - tiles. To avoid damaging the delicate glass fiber plates, the test consisted essentially of an acoustic analysis. Microphones recorded on the resulting sound when you tried to solve the tiles from the orbiter. In addition, jet aircraft were fitted with tiles and flown extreme maneuvers. The occured loads far in excess of the calculated for a shuttle flight.

Another setback in preparation for the first shuttle flight occurred on November 4, 1979: In a trial run of three test assemblies of the SSME main engines (Space Shuttle Main Engine) broke the fuel line in one of the engines. As a result, all installed engines from Columbia were a precaution expanded and moved the date of the maiden flight in the summer of 1980. The SSME - test series could be resumed only after one and a half months.

The first simulation

Mid- December 1979 was held the first large-scale simulation at KSC. At the so-called Orbiter integration test in addition to the prime and backup crews countless technicians, engineers and inspectors participated in Houston, Texas at the launch site and the Johnson Space Center. Alternately played by two teams, sitting in the cockpit, multiple start, mission and landing scenarios. Successful interaction of various subsystems of the orbiter program parts of the on-board computer as well as orbiter and Control was demonstrated for five simulation runs within four weeks. The Columbia was at the time in the OPF.

Prior to the Scientific Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives NASA Director frog end in January 1980 had to admit that the tiling problem further delaying the shuttle maiden flight. As a new period he called 30 November 1980 to 31 March 1981.

Further work

Was still assumed at the beginning of 1980 by the authorities of having completed the heat shield until August, NASA surprising further work announced in May. We have decided in addition to the already newly glued tiles and remove all others and reattach who had passed the stress test. Therefore, the first flight of Columbia earliest in March 1981 was possible.

Only two weeks earlier, NASA had agreed to send because of the modifications made ​​to the KSC, the three main engines to Mississippi in order to subject them to recent test runs there. After the engines were returned to KSC and installed back into the Columbia in July. On the NASA test stands in Mississippi certification test runs were continued and could be completed in early December 1980.

Installation and rollout

In late November 1980, the preparations were complete and the Columbia was brought from the Orbiter Processing Facility into the huge VAB. There she was with the white outer tank - it was delivered in July 1980 - and connected the two solid boosters and put on a launch platform.

The entire team was rolled from the VAB to the 5.6 km distant launch pad 39A on 29 December 1980. After the New Year holidays, the engineers at NASA began with the preparations for the upcoming trial run of the three main engines ( SSMEs ). These 20 -second ignition of the SSMEs was scheduled for February 13, 1981, first had to be postponed by three days and finally took place on 20 February. The astronauts were during the so-called Flight Readiness Firings not on board.

A countdown exercise on March 19, also was successful, but there was subsequently a fatal accident. After the completion of six engineers did some preliminary work in the rear section of the orbiter. To prevent fire, this was only filled with pure nitrogen, which all men breathed. Although they were taken to the hospital immediately, died a technician on the same day, another week and a half later.

Mission History

First launch attempt April 10, 1981

At the beginning of 1981 was March 17 as the start date of the first of four planned test flights OFT ( Orbital Flight Tests ). A sample fueling the external tank in late January had left large parts of the flake foam insulation. The reapplication of the ramp required two weeks. Therefore, in early February was named as a new start date of April 5 at 11:53 UTC. The end of March, a week after the trial countdown, put NASA on April 10 for STS -1 fixed.

The 73stündige countdown, the first in the Shuttle history, began on April 6 at 04:30 UTC.

The preparations went the next day without any significant problems. That changed as the countdown entered its decisive phase on April 10. The two astronauts ( John Young, the most experienced astronauts, the NASA had in their ranks, and newcomer Bob Crippen ) were in the cockpit of the orbiter in the seats and had been adopted by her colleague Ellison Onizuka, who had helped them when boarding. As a start time had been set by NASA 11:50 UTC. At T- 20 minutes unexpectedly stepped on a computer problem, as the Vorstartprogramm was activated in the five main computers.

The computer system of the shuttle consists of five identical computers, called General Purpose Computer (GPC ), of which four as a main computer with the PASS flight software (Primary Avionics Software System, programmed by IBM) are loaded and the fifth unit with the BFS replacement program ( backup flight software, programmed by Rockwell). Every five during the flight with one another constantly data. Thus, the backup computer in case of failure immediately take the place of a main computer.

The problem expressed by the fact that the " reservist " did not understand his " superiors ". Initially, it was thought that the FSO would be incorrect ( PASS and BFS had never been tested before). Was at T -9 minutes, when at 11:31 UTC, the countdown stopped for the last time as scheduled, it was found that the GPCs not synchronous shared their data: between No. 5 and the other was a difference of 40 milliseconds. Two teams in the Mission Control Center in Houston (Texas ) were working on the problem, but could present a solution only after the expiry of six and a half hour launch window. Therefore, the start to the next day had to be postponed. Cause of GPC disturbance was a little too rough tolerance threshold of the clock in the PASS computers.

Start to the first flight day, April 12, 1981

On April 12, the 20th anniversary of manned space flight, NASA wanted to start at 12:00 UTC. Fortunately, the meteorological conditions as two days earlier were ideally 21 degrees Celsius with 55 percent humidity. The existing clouds and wind could also be excluded as possible risk factors. Two and a half hours before the start had boarded the orbiter Commander Young and Crippen Pilot.

There were time delays in the countdown, and the Columbia lifted on time at 12:00 UTC from the launch pad 39A at KSC on where they stood for three and a half months. As planned, the two solid rocket boosters - STS -1 was the first use of solid -fueled rockets in the manned space program - two minutes after the start ( Height: 53.0 km ) dropped. The three main engines were shut down at 12:08 UTC at an altitude of 118.3 kilometers. After two firings of the OMS maneuvering thrusters ( Orbital Maneuvering System), a circular orbit was reached in around 245 kilometers altitude.

First big test was the proper functioning of the two 15-meter gates, which close the cargo bay. There are radiators that radiate the heat produced in the shuttle into space on the inside. Let it not be opened, the mission must be discontinued immediately. Crippen could open the payload bay doors easily one and a half hours after the start.

After a flight time of seven hours, the orbit was raised to almost 280 kilometers. Thereafter, the use of position control thrusters (Reaction Control System, or RCS) was on the program. The orbiter is equipped with 38 of these RCS thrusters. The astronauts reported that the Columbia could be precisely controlled. The ignition noise compared with a fired in the distance howitzer.

13 hours after launch, on April 13 at 01:00 UTC, the flight plan called for a nearly eight-hour sleep period. However, Young and Crippen were so excited that they still saw a while from the windows before they could sleep.

Second flight day, April 13, 1981

The astronauts were awakened with a song that the technician Jerry Rucker had written by the manufacturer of the External Tank Martin Marietta. The country song " Blast Off Columbia " was the first wake-up call of the shuttle program. It was interpreted, selected by Roy McCall & Southern Gold had him astronauts colleague Richard Truly.

After getting the RCS tests continued, followed by a quick breakfast. Should then be temporarily closed the two gates of the cargo space. The engineers wanted to know whether the long doors had possibly warped. Young and Crippen could give the all clear.

Because of the historical significance of this flight was later in a conversation with U.S. Vice President George HW Bush on the program. This congratulated the two astronauts and explained that this flight will move the country forward.

The next few hours spent Young and Crippen with a repair attempt. Flight controllers had previously found that one of the data recorder was broken. He belonged to the DFI - flight monitoring system, which chronicled important data on the technical condition of the space shuttle and the flight course. Each of the three DFI recorder had a tape capacity of six hours. A device had gone to continuous operation and would not turn off. This meant the essential information from the landing had not been for an evaluation is available because the magnetic tape would come to an end before the re-entry.

Therefore, the engineers asked the flight line to arrange an unforeseen repair to replace the defective recorder through an onboard spare. The flight director agreed. Young and Crippen was declared the necessary action. Counter 22:45 UTC they went to work. The device in question was reached by the middle deck. This required two cover panels are removed, which were fastened with two dozen screws. The estimated one and a half hours were long gone when the Control Crippen informed that the screws are tightened to such an extent that they had released only about half. Resignedly he added that he doubted that it could solve the screws themselves on Earth. Houston let it cancel the repair.

Third day of flying and landing, April 14, 1981

The second and final night in orbit was in contrast to the first bit turbulent. On 14 April at 04:00 UTC an alarm awakened the astronauts. One of the three auxiliary power systems ( auxiliary power units, short APUs ) that produce the hydraulic pressure for the control surfaces required on landing, was too low operating temperature. The problem was solved by switching on the heating. Then Young and Crippen were able to sleep for a few hours. Aroused they were officially at 08:41 UTC. However, at the time they were already long awake.

Still prepared the APU, which had made the night for excitement, worry. They cooled off too strong. It was feared that she would not leave later on. A space shuttle needs to land two operational APUs.

After breakfast Young adjusted the three IMU inertial knife (Inertial Measurement Units ) of the orbiter for landing. They are part of the navigation system and provide it with data on the situation and the acceleration vector of the ferry. Then some RCS tests were completed before one began with the landing preparations.

Everything is not required was stowed away, the cockpit systems were checked and unnecessary devices off. Around 14:30 UTC, four hours before landing, the payload bay doors were closed.

The Department has received the green light from Houston for reentry. Then turned Commander Young the heck of Columbia in flight direction and lit at 17:21 UTC, the two OMS engines for two and a half minutes. The resulting reduction in speed of 326 kilometers per hour was sufficient that the space shuttle could leave their orbit.

All three APUs worked as expected. The unit have become conspicuous had started as the first to observe their behavior. For safety reasons, the main work was carried out during the entire mission of two APUs, so that one could rely on the third the failure of a unit.

The runway at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida has a length of four and a half kilometers. For the four OFT flights ( a dried salt lake in the north of Los Angeles ) should, therefore, in the vast terrain of the Edwards Air Force Base landed. The tracks there are generous sized and forgive pilot error better.

From Edwards rose to four aircraft, which should catch the Columbia to supply Young and Crippen with information for the descent and to film the Space Shuttle. In addition, supervised another machine the weather.

Coming from the Pacific Ocean, the Columbia headed to the West Coast of the United States. In 58 km altitude they flew into California. To reduce the speed ferry described a half-dozen S-curve. Last sailed the orbiter in an easterly direction over Edwards addition, entered a left turn and went as planned listless down on runway 23. One and a half minutes before the runway, in about four kilometers up to Columbia was after the last S- curve exactly in the extension of the railway. With 352 kilometers per hour continued the ferry at 18:21 UTC with the tailwheel on the slopes. 944 meters and ten seconds later sat on the nose wheel. After 2,741 meters Columbia came a minute later to a halt.

After landing

Two dozen vehicles approached the Space Shuttle. The poisonous gases of the engines had aspirated and the ferry to be cooled. Young and Crippen took the last checks before, turned on the system and left an hour after " touchdown " the orbiter.

A thorough inspection revealed that of the approximately 31,000 heat shield tiles were damaged during the flight 247. Most defects at the bottom were caused by stones thrown up on the slopes. 16 pieces were even dropped.

In preparation for their next flight, the Columbia was two weeks later flew with the help of a modified Boeing 747 back to Florida. On April 21, the Columbia met after a night in Oklahoma again at the launch site in Florida a.

A month after the flight John Young was ever honored as a seventh astronaut with the Congressional Space Medal of Honor by the U.S. Congress by President Ronald Reagan. Pilot Robert Crippen also received this award - but a quarter century later. He was presented by George W. Bush in April 2006, the Congressional Medal of Honor on the occasion of the 25th anniversary.

The mission was launched in 1982 in an IMAX documentary film called Hail Columbia in the IMAX theaters worldwide and later released as a DVD.

Analyzes and consequences of the mission

  • The sound pressure during takeoff was greater than anticipated, the hydraulic system of the Columbia was stressed beyond its borders. John Young has later explained that he and his pilot had left the shuttle during re-entry by ejection seat, if they had been informed about because of this problem. The sound suppression system, ie the suppression of the sound was subsequently extended.
  • In orbit more missing heat protection tiles were discovered on the top of the orbiter, an examination of the underside was not possible. This has ultimately led to the STS -107 is actually a disaster could happen.
  • On the underside of the shuttle, some areas are melted to the aluminum structure in the re-entry.