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Construction began on Columbia in 1975 primarily in palmdale, California. Columbia was named after the Boston, Massachusetts based sloop. The name also honored Columbia, the Apollo Command/Service Module of Apollo 11. After construction, the orbiter arrived at John F. Kennedy Space Center on March 25, 1979, to prepare for its first launch. On March 19, 1981, during preparations for a ground test,two workers were asphyxiated during a nitrogen purge, resulting in two deaths.
First Flights Edit
The first flight of Columbia STS-1 was commanded by John Young (a space veteran from the Project Gemini and Project Apollo and piloted by Robert Crippen, who had never been in space before, but who served as a support crew member for the Skylab missions and Apollo-Soyuz. It launched on April 12, 1981, the 20th anniversary of human spaceflight, and returned on April 14, 1981, after orbiting the Earth 36 times. 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 Space Shuttle Challenger, which performed the next three shuttle missions.
In 1983, Columbia undertook its second operational mission STS-9, this time with six astronauts, including the first non-American astronaut on a space shuttle, Ulf Merbold. Columbia was not used for the next three years, during which time the shuttle fleet was expanded to include Space Shuttle Discovery and Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Columbia returned to space on January 12, 1986, with the launch of STS-61-C. The mission's crew included Dr. Franklin R. Chang-Diaz, as well as the first sitting member of the United States House of Representatives| to venture into space, Bill Nelson.
The next shuttle mission was undertaken by Challenger. It was launched on January 28, 1986, ten days after STS-61-C had landed. The mission ended in Space Shuttle Challenger shortly after launch. In the aftermath NASA's shuttle timetable was disrupted, and Columbia was not flown again until 1989 on STS-28, after which it resumed normal service as part of the shuttle fleet.