Published July 14, 2011
On April 12, 1981, the world watched as NASA sent the first reusable space vehicle into orbit.
The space shuttle was the most complex machine ever built, launching like a rocket and landing like an airplane. It was a concept some thought would never work.
John Logsdon, of the Space Policy Institute, remembered thinking, “It won’t work, it’s too complicated, this is a disaster in the making.”
Veteran astronaut John Young and pilot Bob Crippen were chosen to take the shuttle on its maiden voyage and prove NASA’s critics wrong.
“How my name came out of the hat to get that particular flight has never been clear to me, but I’m really proud that it did, ” Crippen said. “It was just pure excitement, I didn’t have time to be scared.”
Sitting on the launch pad, Crippen remembered the excitement surrounding the launch.
“I turned to John and said I think we actually might do it. And that’s when my heart rate went up to about 130, his was a nice calm 90 or something like that. I’m really surprised mine didn’t go any faster,” he said.
Crippen and Young took the orbiter on a two-day test flight. They traveled more than a million miles and circled the earth 36 times.
“Our job was to find out if the vehicle would do what we thought it would do, that is get it up and get it back down safely and check out all of the systems we could while we were on orbit, ” Crippen said.
They even got a phone call from then Vice-President George H.W. Bush.
“The space ship is just performing beautifully, ” Young told Bush.
“We’ll it’s great and everybody views it, I’m sure, as a sign of great things to come,” Bush replied. “I think your trip is just going to ignite the excitement and the forward thinking from this country, so I just wanted to call up and wish you the very best.”