First landing of the Space Shuttle Columbia

April 14, 1981

It's hard to believe that when I originally posted this the Space Shuttle had been flying for 30 years. It's also hard to believe the fleet was retired without anything ready to replace it. I guess that's par for the course, considering they did the same thing when they retired the Saturn V that had carried the Apollo astronauts to the moon.

Rather than dwell on this lack of vision I'll look back to a happier day - April 14, 1981. That was the first landing of the orbiter Columbia. I was lucky to get a press pass to the landing site at Edwards Air Force Base, which helped me get around a massive traffic jam of people heading out there to be part of history. The designated area was just behind the TV crews, which meant there was a nice view of the Columbia as it came towards us.

ABC News

Here's a view of the ABC News crew as we all waited for our first view of the Columbia.

The sonic boom

Following the distinctive booms as the orbiter broke the sound barrier it was a thrill to see the Columbia heading towards us. It's only a very tiny dot in this picture, but at the speed it was moving it quickly took form.

Columbia stops

The Columbia came to a stop right where they had told us it would. The crew of mission STS-1 was safely back on Earth.

Columbia stops

Before the astronauts could exit the orbiter a team of technicians had to check it for leaks of any fuel or other chemicals that could have posed a danger. A van then went out to carry the crew off to their debriefing.