Columbia lumbers along 10th Street East at Avenue J in Lancaster on its way to Dryden March 8, 1979. The city renamed 10th Street East as Challenger Way to salute the lost orbiter and its crew. In 2003, Lancaster officials renamed Avenue M for Columbia and its crew; the street is now known as Columbia Way. (NASA Photo) › View Larger Image
Before the orbiter Columbia began its journey to space from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., a laborious trek across the desert, from Palmdale to Dryden, had been undertaken two years previously.
Columbia traveled by city streets and desert roads to Dryden on March 8, 1979, after emerging from Rockwell International's (later The Boeing Co.'s) Plant 42 facilities in Palmdale, Calif. Columbia's overland delivery to Dryden took 10 hours. During the following two weeks, the orbiter was prepared for and mated to a NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft for its first ferry flight to Kennedy to begin processing for its first space flight.
The other three orbiters also were transported by truck to Edwards, where they were mated with the SCA. That first experience hauling Columbia to Dryden was slow, but the experience resulted in shuttle transport times being decreased to about eight hours. Endeavour, the fifth and final shuttle, was the first to be mated to a NASA 747 SCA at Plant 42.
The route taken through Lancaster by Columbia and the other shuttles followed 10th Street East, later renamed Challenger Way. Shuttle viewing along 10th Street East became a field trip for Antelope Valley area schools when the orbiters began the lumbering initial journey to Edwards and, eventually, to Kennedy and space. Residents, school children, reporters and the world watched as the behemoths passed a few feet away, casting people in their shadows. Columbia's wings seemed low enough for children to jump up and touch.
Joe D'Agostino, Dryden's former shuttle manager and then director of management support, oversaw multiple shuttle support functions at Dryden, including photo, video, security, transportation, logistics and other institutional components. Managing the Dryden elements and coordinating the effort with other NASA and industry groups was "no walk in the park" in the massive undertaking of preparing Columbia.
"Working with so many people from the other NASA centers and the industry partners was like preparing for 500 dinner guests, each with a very specific need," D'Agostino recalled. "They all had their own concerns, and we had only one chance to meet their needs in a timely fashion."
In addition, while Columbia was readied for and mated with the NASA 747, D'Agostino and his staff had to plan and prepare for the second and third shuttle flights, scheduled to follow closely on the landing of the first orbiter.
Larry Biscayart, Dryden shuttle program management consultant, recalls watching Columbia moving down the taxiway onto Dryden's ramp for the first time.
"My first thought, watching Columbia roll in, was how large it was, and how were they going to get that huge thing into space," Biscayart said.
"When I was young, my dad worked for North American Rockwell in Downey on the Apollo service modules and one day I got the thrill of my life – dressing up in a bunny suit and going through two clean rooms to peer inside an Apollo capsule. That was my reference for a spacecraft comparison to the shuttle. How huge Columbia was!"
Three former Dryden employees flew on Columbia.
Former astronaut and Dryden research pilot Gordon Fullerton piloted Columbia during STS-3 in March 1982. Mission highlights included the first test of the shuttle's remote manipulator arm in space. STS-3 landed at White Sands, N.M., because Rogers Dry Lake was temporarily unusable following seasonal rains, the lone mission to end at White Sands. Fullerton had an opportunity to land a shuttle at Dryden when he commanded Columbia's STS-51F Spacelab 2 mission in 1985.
Vance Brand, former Apollo-Soyuz astronaut and member of Dryden's management team, commanded Columbia twice, on STS-5 and STS-35. STS-5, in 1982, deployed two commercial communications satellites. In 1990, STS-35 utilized the ASTRO-1 observatory's four telescopes to provide around-the-clock ultraviolet and X-ray celestial observations.
Richard Searfoss, a Dryden pilot from 2001 to 2003, was STS-58 pilot on the seven-person life science research mission aboard Columbia. The orbiter launched from Kennedy on Oct. 18, 1993, and landed at Edwards Nov. 1, 1993. The crew performed several medical experiments on themselves and 48 rats, expanding knowledge of human and animal physiology.
Searfoss also commanded Columbia and a seven-person crew on the STS-90 Neurolab mission launched on April 17, 1998. The crew served as subjects and operators for life science experiments focusing on the effects of microgravity on the brain and nervous system. STS-90 was the last and most complex of the 25 Spacelab missions and landed at Kennedy on May 3, 1998.
Columbia's achievements also included recovery of the Long Duration Exposure Facility satellite from orbit during mission STS-32 in January 1990, and the STS-40 Spacelab Life Sciences mission in June 1991 – the first manned Spacelab mission dedicated exclusively to human medical research.
NASA's first woman shuttle commander, Eileen Collins, flew on Columbia for mission STS-93, during which the Chandra X-ray Observatory was deployed. STS-94 marked the first re-flight by the same shuttle, crew and payload following STS-83, shortened as the result of a fuel cell problem.
Columbia was lost returning from a mission on Feb 1, 2003, and a salute to the Columbia and the STS-107 crew appears elsewhere in this publication. The successes achieved by Columbia and its crews, however, ushered in the age of the space shuttle.