Space Shuttle Columbia History and Background

By NASA | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

Columbia (OV-102), the first of NASA's orbiter fleet, was delivered to Kennedy Space Center in March 1979.

Columbia initiated the Space Shuttle flight program when it lifted off Pad A in the Launch Complex 39 area at KSC on April 12, 1981.

It proved the operational concept of a winged, reusable spaceship by successfully completing the Orbital Flight Test Program - missions STS-1 through 4.

Other, more recent achievements for Columbia include the recovery of the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) satellite from orbit during mission STS-32 in January 1990 and the STS-40 Spacelab Life Sciences mission in June 1991 - the first manned Spacelab mission totally dedicated to human medical research.

Columbia is named after a small sailing vessel that operated out of Boston in 1792 and explored the mouth of the Columbia River.

One of the first ships of the U.S. Navy to circumnavigate the globe was named Columbia. The command module for the Apollo 11 lunar mission was also named Columbia.