President Ronald Reagan (in tan suit on podium, waving) acknowledges the cheers of thousands of flag-waving spectators gathered in front of the prototype space shuttle Enterprise at the back ramp at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center following the landing of shuttle Columbia on the fourth shuttle mission, July 4, 1982. (NASA photo) › View Larger Image
A huge crowd estimated at 500,000 persons and their vehicles assembled to watch the landing of STS-4 from the east shore public viewing site on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base in California in July 1982. (NASA Photo) › View Larger Image
President Ronald Reagan chats with NASA astronauts Henry Hartsfield and Thomas Mattingly on the runway as first lady Nancy Reagan scans the nose of space shuttle Columbia following its Independence Day landing at Edwards Air Force Base on July 4, 1982. (NASA photo) › View Larger Image
Nearly a half-million people thronged the eastern shoreline of Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base while another 45,000 flag-waving spectators along with President Ronald Reagan crowded into NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center as Space Shuttle Columbia landed to conclude its fourth orbital test flight on Independence Day in 1982.
Columbia had launched seven days earlier on June 27 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on its final orbital test flight. The shuttle came through with flying colors as its two-man crew, commander Thomas K. Mattingly and pilot Henry Hartsfield Jr., brought the shuttle onto the lakebed runway. This flight also saw the first scientific experiment to be performed during a shuttle mission using the Continuous Flow Electrophoresis System and the first "Getaway Special."
"The fire people were out there helping them in any way they could and the cops were trying to keep order," Col. Harry Talbot of Air Force Security Forces later recalled.
"It was a great crowd and I remember standing out in front of the line when the orbiter touched down and this feeling of pride to be an American was just intense," Talbot added. "The flags were everywhere. It was wonderful. We were, in a sense, a city of half-a-million people."
Following President Reagan's address to the crowd gathered next to the prototype shuttle Enterprise on the back ramp at NASA Dryden, NASA's modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft carrying the just-completed shuttle Challenger took off from another lakebed runway, passing over the crowd in an airborne salute to the President and the appreciative crowd.
It was a day to remember in aerospace history – July 4, 1982 – 30 years ago, at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center.
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An estimated 45,000 visitors jammed the back ramp and taxiways at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on July 4, 1982 to hear congratulations from President Ronald Reagan following the historic Independence Day landing of space shuttle Columbia after the fourth shuttle mission. (NASA photo)