Columbia Manned Spaceflight Space Shuttle

Columbia under construction

ColumbiaConstruction begins on Space Shuttle Orbiter Vehicle 102 (OV-102 for short), the shuttle orbiter that NASA intends to launch as early as 1977. But OV-102 encounters the inherent pitfalls of being the first of its kind: years of delays are ahead, with many of the delays linked to the complicated system of protective thermal tiles designed to bear the brunt of the shuttle’s punishing re-entry through the atmosphere. (The test orbiter, later named Enterprise, is never intended for spaceflight, so it only has to conform to the shape and weight of a returning shuttle for landing tests, and therefore it doesn’t face the same hurdles.) OV-102’s first flight won’t take place until 1981, leaving a six-year gap between manned American spaceflights; during this period OV-102 will be named Columbia.