On April 12, 1961, the era of human spaceflight began when the Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth in his Vostock I spacecraft. The flight lasted 108 minutes.
Twenty years later, on the morning of April 12, 1981, two astronauts sat strapped into their seats on the flight deck of Columbia, a radically new spacecraft known as the space shuttle.
Astronaut John Young, a veteran of four previous spaceflights including a walk on the moon in 1972, commanded the mission. Navy test pilot Bob Crippen piloted the mission and would go on to command three future shuttle missions.
Space Shuttle astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen (in tan space suits) are greeted by members of the ground crew moments after stepping off the shuttle Columbia following its maiden flight. Credit NASA.
The Space Shuttle Era: 1981-2011. Cities, space centers, museums want to be shuttles' final landing spot
The space shuttle Columbia, NASA's first orbiter, is showered with lights in this nocturnal scene at Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., during preparations for the first flight (STS-1) of NASA's new reusable spacecraft system. This photo was taken in March 1981 ahead of Columbia's April 12, 1981 launch. Credit NASA & Space.com.
The space shuttle Columbia begins a new era of space transportation when it lifts off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla, on April 12, 1981. The reusable orbiter, its two fuel tanks and two solid rocket boosters (SRB) has just cleared the launch tower. Credit NASA & Space.com.
Space Shuttle Columbia's first landing was at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. (Photo courtesy of the Edwards AFB History Office).