On April 14, 1981, the rear wheels of the space shuttle Columbia touched down in Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base in southern California.
Thus was completed the first space mission of the ‘shuttle’ consisting of an orbital flight of more than 48 hours. The landing demonstrated the effectiveness of the new American manned space launch system, whose main virtue was precisely the landing like an airplane and the possibility of being reused.
Astronauts John W. Young, commander of the STS-1 mission, and Robert L. Crippen, pilot, were aboard the vehicle. The mission marked NASA’s first flight to land on wheels and the beginning of a new era of spaceflight with the same craft.
An area of the airbase was reserved for the public display of the landing, and more than 200,000 people gathered. Media from around the world covered the event.
According to NASA reports, James Young, Chief Historian of the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB, remembered the landing well. “You just had to be there to hear, even feel, the double wave of the sonic boom,” Young said. “It was a tremendous sense of excitement to see something never seen before, to witness a historical event.”