The first U.S. space shuttle to orbit the Earth was Columbia. It launched on April 12, 1981, from Kennedy Space Center. Crewed by astronauts John W. Young and Robert L. Crippen, it remained in orbit two days before landing safely, airplane-like, at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
The shuttle was ferried back to Florida on the back of a modified Boeing 747. Seven months later, Columbia launched again on a check flight, making it the first reusable orbiter. The first operational flight was in November 1982. Over the next 20 years, Columbia returned to space to launch and repair satellites and perform scientific experiments. Columbia was destroyed during the re-entry phase of its 28th mission on Feb. 1, 2003.