Columbia, returned to orbit fresh from two years of
work that left it safer and more capable than ever
before (its previous flight was in July of 1999).
Columbia launched March 1 at 6:22 a.m. EST on mission
STS-109. The mission was dedicated to maintaining
and enhancing the Hubble Space Telescope, the fourth such
flight since the telescope's launch in 1990.
is the first and oldest orbiter in the shuttle fleet. It
was named after the Boston based seaship captained by American
Robert Gray in the late 1700's. Gray led his seafairing
ship, "Columbia" and its crew on the first American
circumnavigation of the globe.
The spaceship Columbia has continued the pioneering legacy
of its forebears, becoming the first Space Shuttle to fly
into Earth orbit in 1981. Four sister ships joined the fleet
over the next 10 years: Challenger, arriving in 1982 but
destroyed four years later; Discovery, 1983; Atlantis, 1985;
and Endeavour, built as a replacement for Challenger, 1991.
Columbia is commonly refered to as Orbiter Vehicle-102
or OV-102. It was weight at 158,289 lbs at rollout and 178,000
lbs with main engines installed.
Columbia has undergone some extensive reworking and upgrading
in the past two years.
"Returning Columbia to orbit to improve the Hubble
Space Telescope is a fitting start to what will be a busy
and vital year in space." said Space Shuttle Program
Manager Ron Dittemore. "We have more spacewalks planned
in the next 12 months than we have ever done in a single
year. We are going to fly diverse missions, dedicated to
satellite maintenance, research and Space Station assembly,
showcasing capabilities unique in the world. The shuttle
team has done a great job in preparing for this mission."
A maintenance and upgrade period completed in 2001 installed
a new "glass cockpit" in Columbia, increased its
cargo capacity, strengthened its crew cabin and enhanced
the protection of its cooling system from orbital debris.
Columbia was the second of NASA's four Space Shuttles to
be fitted with the new cockpit.
Columbia's new cockpit replaced mechanical instruments
with 11 full- color, flat-panel displays. The new cockpit
is lighter, uses less electricity and sets the stage for
the next generation of improvements - - a "smart cockpit"
under development that will make the cabin even more user-friendly.
Technicians also performed comprehensive inspections of
the Space Shuttle's more than 200 miles of electrical wiring,
installing protection to prevent future damage in high-traffic
areas. Intensive structural inspection of Columbia also
was performed as well as 133 modifications and upgrades.
Columbia's flight ended with landing back
at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida March 12. STS-109
marks the 27th mission for Columbia and the 108th in Shuttle