A new era in space flight began on April 12, 1981, when the first shuttle mission soared into orbit from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. STS-1 commander John Young had already flown in space four times, including a walk on the moon in 1972. Bob Crippen, the pilot, was a Navy test pilot who would go on to command three future shuttle missions. But nothing either man had done or would do was quite like this.
The shuttle was humankind's first re-usable spacecraft. The orbiter, which many people think of as the "shuttle," would launch like a rocket and land like a plane. The two solid rocket boosters that helped push them into space would also be re-used, after being recovered in the ocean. Only the massive external fuel tank would burn up as it fell back to Earth. It was all known as the Space Transportation System.
On a long list of firsts, one stunning fact stands out: it was the first time in history a new spacecraft was launched on its maiden voyage with a crew aboard. Image Credit: NASA