Most memorable space shuttle moments
At Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the STS-135 crew pose for a group portrait in front of space shuttle Atlantis' hatch in the pad's White Room.
July 7th, 2011
11:34 AM ET

Most memorable space shuttle moments

For more than 30 years, America's space shuttles have rocketed into orbit. Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour blasted off 134 times from the Kennedy Space Center. They were mankind's first reusable space launch vehicles, and the first to glide back to Earth on wings. As the space shuttle program ends with the final flight of Atlantis, CNN looks back at key moments that have defined this pioneering space program.

First shuttle mission – After several years of delays, as well as a computer malfunction the day before, America rocketed into the space shuttle era on the morning of April 12, 1981. The shuttle had been through many tests, but for Columbia’s first launch into space, Commander John Young and Pilot Robert Crippen were in the cockpit.
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Shuttle firsts – The shuttles have launched many "firsts" into space. Physicist Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983. At age 32, she also holds the record for the youngest astronaut. That same year, Air Force Col. Guion Bluford Jr. became the first African-American in space. In 1983, Ulf Merbold, from West Germany, became the first non-American to fly on the shuttle. The first member of royalty and the first Muslim in space was Sultan Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in 1985. Medical doctor Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman in space in 1992. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Sergei Krikalev became the first Russian to fly on a space shuttle in 1994. Air Force Col. Eileen Collins became the first woman to pilot the shuttle in 1995, and four years later she was the first to command a mission.
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Challenger disaster – January 28, 1986, at 11:38 am ET, space shuttle Challenger blasted off from Kennedy Space Center. One minute and 13 seconds later, the ship was engulfed in a fireball which destroyed Challenger and claimed the lives of all onboard. NASA later determined the accident was caused when an O-ring in one of the white solid rocket boosters failed because of unusually cold weather.
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Mir Space Station – Built by the Soviet Union, the Mir Space Station opened its doors to the American space shuttle in 1995. The shuttle visited the station 10 times and American astronauts spent nearly 1,000 days on board. The Shuttle-Mir program laid the cooperative and scientific groundwork for the much larger international space station that came later. During the visits, crews and their corresponding ground teams worked out everything from how to dock two different spacecrafts together, to how to bathe on long duration flights.
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On Friday, will bring you more highlights from the last three decades of NASA's shuttle program.

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Filed under: Shuttle • Solar System • Space • U.S.
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Mekell

    Was home sick the day Challenger disaster happened. Watched it live and cried with the nation.

    July 7, 2011 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  2. poopdeck

    I hope the space program moves out of florida. This is the state with the inbred illiterate mongooloid toothless idiots that let Casey Anthony off.

    July 7, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Marshall

    The NASA space program has accomplished many great feats and has opened our eyes for further exploration. It is a shame that this will be the last official shuttle launch and it saddens me to know that we will be relying on Russian space shuttles to fulfill upcoming missions

    July 7, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erik

      I have faith that we'll be back, better than before. We'll be the first country to privatize space flight. As for relying upon the Russians to give us a lift to the Space Station, that doesn't bother me at all. We scratch their back, they scratch ours. We're not enemies anymore. International cooperation is a good thing.

      July 8, 2011 at 2:48 am | Report abuse |
  4. ajd041

    I bet the russian rockets were made in china just like everything else and russia has enough power we dont need to give them any more

    July 7, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erik

      I wasn't aware that the Space Program is dead. Just the Shuttle program. NASA lives on, and we will still explore space with rockets and Hubble and that new fancy schmancy telescope with the name I can't remember, and we've still got people on the space station. And as for blaming Obama, you can bet that if he had announced new funding for NASA, the tea party would be up in arms about it. No matter what he does, it's wrong so their credibility is shot in my book.

      July 8, 2011 at 2:53 am | Report abuse |
  5. Dragonfly

    "I hope the space program moves out of florida." You don't worry about the space program at all after this, poopdeck. Obama killed it.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erik

      I wasn't aware that the Space Program is dead. Just the Shuttle program. NASA lives on, and we will still explore space with rockets and Hubble and that new fancy schmancy telescope with the name I can't remember, and we've still got people on the space station. And as for blaming Obama, you can bet that if he had announced new funding for NASA, the tea party would be up in arms about it. No matter what he does, it's wrong so their credibility is shot in my book.

      July 8, 2011 at 2:54 am | Report abuse |
  6. banasy

    The space program is a waste of tax payers money. I prefer to use the money to buy drugs and sell them at very high prices.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • M

      People like you suck... you junkies end up costing us billions in dollars getting psych treatment and going to rehab 15 times a year!!! At least these billions went to somthing worth the cause... (unlike you) 🙂

      July 7, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Derrick

      People like you should be put on a boat and forced to sail to a small third world country where there are morons just like you who can understand the true depths of your stupidity.

      July 8, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  7. LoftyAmbitions

    Important moments. We were in college when the Challenger accident occurred. We're at Kennedy Space Center now. Read about our adventure at LOFTY AMBITIONS BLOG.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. The Way It Is

    I remember when earlier, in the US space program, (when we were a healthy,capable and generous society), that second and third world countries unable, incapable or politically incapable of promoting or sustaining real higher education, excellence in education and public education for all, had to hope , ask and beg for borrowed/paid rides on NASA missions and expeditions. You know, just like we will do with Russia now and in the future. Oh, how the mighty have fallen ... an elevator shaft goes as far as the handler wants it to go... "hang on folks, its going to be a very bumpy ride" (Betty Davis, circa (1950) when we had pride).

    July 7, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. john

    Good luck NASA , Canada loves what you have done, its too bad its coming to an end.

    July 7, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. lexgreen

    People should remember that it was several years after the end of the Apollo program before the Space Shuttle first flew in 1981. The end of the shuttle program is not sum symbol of "decline". Flights to the Space Station via Soyuz are substantially less expensive. One does wonder however, what would happen if a module on the Space Station were needed to be repaired or replaced . . .

    July 8, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Sarge

    At the very least, one of the shuttles should have been kept on "standby" in case it were needed. Anyway, great memories of the shuttle program. I remember in 4th grade watching the first shuttle blast off, I was 10 years old. Now, 30 years later, I'm wondering where time went. 1981 sure doesn't seem that long ago...

    July 8, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. johnny in Lower Alabama

    For anyone interested here is what the new NASA administrator (Bolden) says he was charged with by president Obama before he was placed in charge at NASA:

    From July 2010

    " before I became the NASA Administrator – he (President Obama) charged me with three things: One was that he wanted me to re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, that he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with predominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering."

    Does anyone see any charges for the adminstrator to explore the atmosphere or space which is the responsibility of the National Atmospheric and Space Administration in the first place.

    Our present leadership has made us a nation of lasts instead of a nation of firsts and I am sick of it. No I will not go quietly into the night and shut up which is what many reading this site would like for me to do.

    We as older and more mature Americans should engage these young idealists pointing our country in the wrong direction and things might be different. Without a dream the people will perish. It was the inspiration of the moon program and later the shuttle program that prompted me to become an electronic technician and contributing member of society. I see nothing that could be noted as inspiring at this point other than the faint possibility of a possible landing on an asteroid. Not very inspiring. I can't believe it is so but I see more inspiration in the Chinese space program than I do in our own and that is bad. They (the Chinese) know where they are going and it is not to an asteroid. Our decisions have consequences that will reverberate through the coming years. I only hope those reverberations will not shake us to pieces.

    Please put down your cell phones and video games and look at what is happening to this country. God Please Bless America and Americans again.

    July 8, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Derrick

    I was in a college journalism class when we got the news that the Challenger had exploded. We were in the middle of listening to a boring lecture by a boring teacher, when two guys from the newsroom next door came in wheeling a TV with them yelling "it blew up, it blew up". Needless to say the lecture ceased to be boring (which was a miracle given our instructor). The problem I have remembering this tragedy, besides the people who were lost, was the way the news media beat this story to death, searching for new and creative ways to sensationalize the deaths of seven American heroes.

    July 8, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
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    April 28, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |