The Space Shuttle Columbia was like nothing else in the 20tht century. It flew a total of 28 missions, spending 300 days in space and completing 4,808 orbits around the Earth.
Launching on April 12th in 1981 it became the first shuttle mission. Later that year in November, it became the first re-used manned spacecraft. Its third mission in 1982 became the first mission with an unpainted external tank and the first and only time it landed at the White Sands Space Harbor located in New Mexico. The shuttle saw its first four-person crew deploy the first commercial satellite in November of 1982.
In 1983, Spacelab was installed inside the orbiter’s cargo bay. This would allow the crew to work on various instruments and experiments in an enclosed area while still connected to an outside payload pallet. Spacelab’s 16th and final mission was ended in 1998.
The first European Space Agency astronaut, Germany’s Dr. Ulf Merbold flew aboard Columbia during the 9th mission in 1983. Chiaki Mukai was the first Japanese woman to fly in space when she flew aboard Columbia in 1994. The first ceremonial first pitch in outer space was thrown in 1995 aboard Columbia during game five of the 1995 baseball World Series.
One of Columbia’s largest achievements was the deployment of the Chandra-X-ray Observatory in 1999. It was also the heaviest payload ever launched by Columbia. It is still in orbit today, providing images from billions of light years away. The Observatory continues to provide insights on our Universe’s structure and evolution.