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400,000 feet above Earth. At this point, Columbia was about 4,390 miles from the Edwards landing strip in California.

At 151,000 feet, traveling more than eight times the speed of sound, Crippen saw coastline ahead. “What a way to come to California!” he called. The worst of the waiting was over. Theory was becoming a reality.

Twin sonic booms announced the arrival of Columbia while the vehicle was still at an altitude of 54,000 feet. About 400 feet above the desert, landing gears were lowered.

Columbia landed on Runway 23 of Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, rolling 8,993 feet—within 200 feet of the estimate.

Shuttle program officials and astronauts said Columbia exceeded performance expectations and dubbed it their “incredible flying machine.”

Shuttle program ‘firsts’


Early shuttle program firsts continued with the flight of STS-7 in June 1983. Sally K. Ride became the first American woman to go into space aboard Challenger on its second flight. Between her first and second missions (STS-41G), Ride became the first female “CAPCOM” in Mission Control to relay information to the STS-2 and STS-3 crews on orbit.



NASA S79-31775

Astronauts John W. oung (left), commande , and Robert L. Crippen, pilot, crewed Space Shuttle Columbia on its maiden voyage—the first orbital test flight of the Space

ransportation System.


The Space Shuttle Columbia touches down on the Northrup Strip at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, marking the first (and only) time it touched New Mexico soil. Landing was shortly after 9 a.m. Mountain Standard

ime on March 30, 1982.

NASA S82-28838

NASA STS007-14-629


The first mission to end with landing at the Kennedy Space Center included another historic first when Astronaut Bruce McCandless II flew untethered outside Challenger during a demonstration spacewalk. The nitrogen-propelled, hand-controlled manned maneuvering unit was used operationally on the next mission to retrieve and repair the ailing Solar Maximum Mission spacecraft.


Astronaut Guion (Guy) S. Bluford became the first African-American in space aboard Challenger on the first mission to launch and land at night August/September 1983.

Bluford flew three more shuttle flights before leaving NASA in 1993.

NASA S08-13-0361

NASA S84-27562


NASA STS063-312-020

Astronaut Eileen M. Collins became the first woman pilot of the space shuttle on the first mission to rendezvous with the Russian space station Mir in 1995. She later flew three more times, most recently as commander of STS-114 last July. Collins became the first woman to receive the National Space rophy on March 24, 2006. The trophy was established by the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation, and is presented annually in Houston to an American for career achievements in space exploration.

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