Columbia, the oldest orbiter in the Shuttle fleet, is named after the Boston, Massachusetts based sloop captained by American Robert Gray. On May 11, 1792, Gray and his crew maneuvered the Columbia past the dangerous sandbar at the mouth of a river extending more than 1,000 miles through what is today south-eastern British Columbia, Canada, and the Washington-Oregon border. The river was later named after the ship. Gray also led Columbia and its crew on the first American circumnavigation of the globe, carrying a cargo of otter skins to Canton, China, and then returning to Boston.
Other sailing ships have further enhanced the luster of the name Columbia. The first U.S. Navy ship to circle the globe bore that title, as did the command module for Apollo 11, the first lunar landing mission.
On a more directly patriotic note, "Columbia" is considered to be the feminine personification of the United States. The name is derived from that of another famous explorer, Christopher Columbus.
The spaceship Columbia has continued the pioneering legacy of its forebears, becoming the first Space Shuttle to fly into Earth orbit in 1981. Four sister ships joined the fleet over the next 10 years: Challenger, arriving in 1982 but destroyed four years later; Discovery, 1983; Atlantis, 1985; and Endeavour, built as a replacement for Challenger, 1991. A test vehicle, the Enterprise, was used for suborbital approach and landing tests and did not fly in space. The names of Columbia's sister ships each boast their own illustrious pedigree.
In the day-to-day world of Shuttle operations and processing, Space Shuttle orbiters go by a more prosaic designation. Columbia is commonly refered to as OV-102, for Orbiter Vehicle-102. Empty Weight was 158,289 lbs at rollout and 178,000 lbs with main engines installed.
Columbia was the first on-line orbiter to undergo the scheduled inspection and retrofit program. It was transported August 10, 1991, after its completion of mission STS-40, to prime Shuttle contractor Rockwell International's Palmdale, California assembly plant. The oldest orbiter in the fleet underwent approximately 50 modifications, including the addition of carbon brakes, drag chute, improved nose wheel steering, removal of development flight instrumentation and an enhancement of its thermal protection system. The orbiter returned to KSC February 9, 1992 to begin processing for mission STS-50 in June of that year. On October 8, 1994, Columbia was transported to Palmdale California for its first ODMP. This orbiter modification and refurbishment time is expected to take approximately 6 months. (Reference KSC Press Release 113-94 and Shuttle Status Report 10/10/94)
On September 24, 1999, Columbia was transported to Palmdale California for its second ODMP. While in California, workers will perform more than 100 modifications on the vehicle. Columbia will be the second orbiter outfitted with the multi-functional electronic display system (MEDS) or "glass cockpit". Last year, Shuttle Atlantis had the full-color, flat-panel displays installed on its flight deck during an OMDP. The new system improves crew interaction with the orbiter during flight and reduces the high cost of maintaining the outdated electromechanical cockpit displays currently onboard.
After a 17-month stay in california for modifications and refurbishment, Space Shuttle Columbia returns to Kennedy Space Center aboard the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. After STS-109, Columbia's payload bay was outfitted with the new SPACEHAB Research Double Module preparing the orbiter for 16 days of research on mission STS-107.
On Thursday, 1/16/03, the launch countdown proceeded as scheduled. At 9:18 a.m. EST, a go was given to close the hatch. At 10:10 a.m. EST, the countdown clock exited the planned hold at the T-minus 20 minute mark. At 10:31 a.m. EST, the countdown clock came out of the planned hold at the T-minus 9 minute mark. At 10:35 a.m. EST, a go was given for APU start. Launch occurred at the opening of the launch window.
A deorbit burn occured at 8:15 a.m. EST (1315 GMT) for a planned
landing on KSC Runway 33. Communication was lost with Columbia at 9:00am
EST while Columbia was at approximately 200,000ft over Central Texas
while the vehicle was traveling at 12,500 mph.
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