Flashback Friday – The First Space Shuttle Launch

Friday Flashback is where I look back at the books, films, TV shows and million and one other things that have inspired me over the years in my storytelling and art. This week in the spirit of a panel at the Bristol Con11 science fiction and fantasy convention tomorrow about science that I am taking part in, I thought I’d have a look at an event that changed my world forever, the first Space Shuttle launch.

The first launch of the Space Shuttle (Columbia) occurred on 12 April 1981, exactly 20 years after the first manned space flight. There were two crewmembers: astronauts John W. Young (commander) and Robert L. Crippen (pilot), and at precisely 7 a.m. EST they lifted off from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, at the Kennedy Space Centre.

The primary mission objective of Columbia’s maiden flight was to perform a general check of the Space Shuttle’s system, accomplish a safe ascent into orbit and to return to Earth for a safe landing.During its two-day mission, Columbia reached an orbital altitude of 166 nautical miles (307 km). The 37-orbit, 1,074,567-mile (1,729,348 km)-long flight lasted a total of 2 days, 6 hours, 20 minutes and 53 seconds. 

I was barely six years old at the time, and that memory has never faded of the day I joined the rest of my classmates as we all crowed around the small TV in our school and watched history unfold (you can see that moment here). It inspired me then, and it inspires me now. That was the day I ran home to my mum and told her that when I grew up I wanted to be an astronaut and explore the stars. 

It is amazing how this one thing has affected my life so much, and with the recent NASA cutbacks and the final flight of the Space Shuttle program in April this year by Space shuttle Atlantis, has saddened me too. This one brave act and inspirational moment has been the fuel of a lifetime of curiosity of the world and universe around me.

I’m confident in saying that this one moment was not the sole inspiration behind my love of all things science. That, I believe, was always going to happen. That first Space Shuttle launch way back in 1981 was more along the lines of a good hard shove in the right direction. It showed me that those fantastic spaceships and strange worlds and galaxies that I read about in my books and watched on TV and in films were not as far away as I might think.


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