Shuttle Columbia is shown during lift-off from the Kennedy Space Center in 2003
NASA launched its first space shuttle, Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-1), from the Kennedy Space Center on April 12, 1981.
In the three decades that followed, the space agency deployed a total of 135 missions from US soil.
Columbia was only the beginning; following in its footsteps, NASA launched Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavor to carry people to orbit.
These launches also allowed for the construction of the International Space Station – the largest structure in space, that’s now home to a revolving crew of astronauts from all around the world, conducting important experiments that continue to advance our knowledge of the cosmos.
The shuttle missions came to an end with the Atlantis shuttle on July 21, 2011 after STS-135.
In the years since, NASA has had to rely on Russian modules to send astronauts to the ISS, all of which launch from foreign soil.
Now, the space agency is stepping up efforts to bring crewed launches back home.
On August 3, 2018, NASA revealed the nine astronauts that will soon take to space aboard the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon, to pioneer a ‘new era in American spaceflight.’
The crew flight tests will launch from the Kennedy Space Center in 2019.
The shuttle missions came to an end with the Atlantis shuttle on July 21, 2011 after STS-135. Above, Atlantis lands at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fl, marking the official end of the 30-year program