Introduction: This is my first hand account of witnessing the maiden voyage of STS-1, “Columbia” from Kennedy Space Center on April 12th 1981. I
was inspired to share by another current ATS member Anon72 who although we are polar opposites politically, share a love and fascination with
America’s Space Program. I dedicate this thread to him in the spirit of the ATS community. Like the Space Shuttle itself, I am fast becoming an
archaic relic but wanted to leave my story and scribblings on the ATS cave walls before another visit from the stroke fairy leaves me in a permanent
I suspect it won’t be an epic thread on the scale of Slayer, Zorgon or the other esteemed members here but can assure you it will be truthful and
hopefully interesting as I impart my own “hole in your sock” realness. (Hopefully Phage will be gentle if I’ve misremembered anything. LOL) I
won’t be providing any erudite links but do plan to share some photos I haven’t even touched in many years that were stored with some other old
junk. (By the way, is a 1952 Mickey Mantle Topps Baseball card worth anything? LOL) I’ll try to set the tone of the nation during that exciting
era in America as we were about to once again embark in Manned Space flight mainly from my own recollection. There is no conspiracy or need to debunk
but ALL comments or stories welcomed and appreciated. So here goes:
The year was 1981 and America was about to send man into space after a brief hiatus
(the first since the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project on 15 July 1975.) but long after the famed Apollo program of the 60’s. For context, that same year
“Chariots of Fire” won Best Picture Oscar and the Top Pop single was Journey- “Don’t Stop Believing.” (Ironic.)
I was 25 and 3 years out of college with a BA Degree in Broadcasting from UCF in Orlando. I was living in Cocoa Beach aka “The Space Coast” and
was holding down two jobs at the time. Full time at a local Community College as a Media Technician (Overhead projector cart jockey LOL) and a 2nd
job at a small Video Production studio in Cape Canaveral near KSC. The studio, although small, had state of the art gear for the time and was
frequently hired by NASA contractors for various services they outsourced and by various other Space and News related organizations. It was a great
first gig out of college and I mostly worked nights and weekends as an Editor which remains my vocation today. Since the facility was rather small
and despite my average shooting skills, it was “all hands on deck” to handle the tremendous workload.
The eyes of the world were focused on the Space Coast and there was International Press from across the globe. It was a Gold Rush of sorts and we
were selling shovels. Excitement filled the air and the whole area was a beehive of activity for several weeks leading up to launch.
No one knew what to expect of this newfangled space vehicle configuration, vastly different from the needle-nose shaped rockets of the past like
Saturn 5. What was most astounding was the sheer size and enormity of this vessel. How on earth could this behemoth ever get off the ground? To
this day the idea of a reusable, multi-purpose vehicle which blasts into space and glides graciously back to earth is revolutionary. Conspicuously
absent was any sort of ejection tower mast as was previously used in Apollo. Should there be any failure, the vehicle would have had to reach a
minimum altitude in order to glide back assuming control functions remained intact. Highly risky!
This initial launch was much different from successive Shuttle launches in that it was more of a “proof of concept” test flight. It only carried
a two person crew consisting of Astronauts John W. Young – Commander and Robert L Crippen –pilot. It would orbit the earth 37 times over a 55 hour
mission and perform some basic maneuvers including spaceflight with open bay doors. I’m not aware of the nature of experiments conducted, if any.
Also as you will see, the SRB (Solid Rocket Booster) tanks were white as opposed to trademark orange foam insulation used today. (As I recall, only
the first two were white.) Also, it did not return to land at KSC.
In the weeks leading up to the launch I shot many “live-shots” from KSC with overseas correspondents which were uplinked to their home country.
Here is one from atop satellite truck:
I also shot tons of “B-Roll” footage as shown here: (Note camera and separate corded ¾” VTR deck. One-piece “Camcorders” weren’t around
Here are a few Press credentials:
Additionally I edited numerous news packages back at the studio. The equipment is primitive by today’s standards, all linear tape requiring “fast
fingers” (Wow I still had my hair back in those days. LOL )
Here is a shot of the truck we’d use to shoot from on the day of launch and provide a
live-feed to the Overseas News Bureaus: (staged PR Photo- I blurred company logo)
Here is me in the “bucket” prior to launch (staged PR photo VAB visible in background):
Our truck was positioned at a Press site a mere 3 miles from launch complex 39-A. The launch was scheduled for 6am and as I recall there were numerous
delays. Most of our crew slept in the truck rather than the long trip home across causeways and back. But who could sleep? I was shooting from the
“cherry picker” and had practiced for hours to anticipate vertical tilt at lift off to keep my shot framed. On the actual launch however I did a
fine job until the Sound waves of the liftoff reached the Press Site. The ground shook violently and my lofty perch began to bounce like a pogo
stick. The Director yelled at me on headsets. “Camera Two what the hell are you doing?” He switched to CAM 1 a ground based Camera. They
exited the control room in the truck to find me hanging on for dear life as the bucket continued to bounce. It was a wild ride! LOL We did not
anticipate the intense “see-saw” effect and subsequently added stiff-leg jacks to the truck and a cabled winch system to the bucket for subsequent
launches. Fun times!
I personally shot / attended the first 6 Shuttle launches from the KSC and have viewed approx 30 over my lifetime. They NEVER became routine to me
and the night launches are simply spectacular. However nothing close to remembering that first one, kinda like a first love.
In my lifetime I’ve achieved modest success in various professional pursuits. Although I’ll never climb Mt. Everest or swim the English Channel
being there for STS-1 is the single proudest moment I have ever experienced, I was a part of something, albeit a small one. Seeing the Challenger
disaster on TV in ’86 was by far one of my saddest aside from losing loved ones.
So as the Shuttle’s legacy winds down later this year, here’s to a great bunch of ladies. After 30 years and well over a hundred flawless
missions, you girls deserve a rest. (And all the Brave crew)
Heroes one and all.
Obligatory YouTube NASA Launch clip:
edit on 22-2-2011 by kinda kurious because: (no reason given)
Originally posted by Mason mike
very nicely done. Did you have to go through a bunch of security clearances back then, or was it not a big deal to get where you were to take those
I did not have a security clearance per se. It was VERY LAX back then at least at Press site. No photo ID's for the Press area. (Badges were numbered
on back-not shown in OP) We were escorted with a PR rep if we ever shot from locations other than Press area after getting special permission
depending on our client.
Granted there was military security around, but nothing like today.
edit on 22-2-2011 by kinda kurious because: (no reason given)
I saw STS-127's liftoff about two years ago. I had to make two separate trips to the cape with hundreds of dollars and tons of time thrown in over
the 5 or so separate launch attempts. Despite all the hassle from the numerous scrubbings, the brilliance of the moment of launch was well worth it.
There's something about seeing a launch of a shuttle that is hard to describe. It's simply unlike anything else I've witnessed. From the pure awe
of seeing the controlled explosion flaring out of the shuttle/boosters to the fact that 7 people are riding that explosion, there's a feeling you
won't find elsewhere.
I can only imagine that feeling was even greater for you considering that this was the first flight of the program. I still think it's amazing that
NASA got it right on the first flight. It was extraordinary for a vehicle never used in space before to do so well on its first mission. Putting a
crew in the shuttle, even one of only two, was such a gutsy move for a flight with so much uncertainty.
I'm planning to head to the cape once more on Thursday to see the last flight of Discovery. I hope it works out on the first attempt this time, but
simply seeing the stack on the launch pad is worth the trip.
I do believe you are correct sir. (The devil is in the details.)
April 12, 1981, 7:00:03 a.m, EST. Launch April 10 postponed due to timing skew in orbiter's general purpose computer system. Backup flight
software failed to synchronize with primary avionics software system. Countdown proceeded on schedule April 12. First 24 Shuttle liftoffs - STS-1
through 61-C - were from Pad 39-A. Launch Weight: 219,258 lbs.
I had mentioned delays in OP but forgot it was 2 whole days! It was originally scheduled for Friday. (I had entered 4-14 when I did my day search)
Perhaps Slayer was skipping Sunday school. No worries 30 years was a long time ago.
The nice work compliment is yours alone for the great OP.
I've never had the fortune to watch a launch live (much less than from the great vantage point you had with the film gear!)
I have heard the orbiter return to Edwards AFB when I lived in SoCal. Its a very distinctive double sonic boom, everybody stopped what they were
doing, looked up and said "the shuttles back" then went back to work.
My friend. What a wonderful thread. It is better than I ever imagined it would be.
I am truly amazed. And very jealous. You put a new felling to it-telling it from your perspective. The personal shots are the best. You were a
lucky man. And to be doing all of that at such a young point in your life.
I knew you had it in you. I could tell-from the first mention of it. That's why I proded you a few times. It was well worth the wait.
I have to say, you look like you had the whole Tom Selleck/Magnum PI thing going on back then.
You are incorrect in one thing though....
You indicated this thread wouldn't be on par with a Slayer69, Zargon etc thread. You're wrong. Just as good!
Enjoy the accolades as they are well deserved.
Thank you for sharing a piece of your life with us.
Very Very interesting post, Must have been exciting times for you. Thank you for sharing, I was totally engulfed by your passion for what you did. I
too was in South Florida in the very early 80's . Funny how different Career paths brings about different views of history. My instant memories were
of the mariel boat lifts.When Mr. Castro emptied his prisons on the good folks of Miami.
Im glad you enjoyed yours lol.
Thanks for bringing me back just the same
.Damn it sucks to get old.
ps.Sorry, I also wanted to come back after reading this thread twice now and add that post like these are the ones that keep me coming back to ATS,
Thank you again Mr. Kurious
edit on 22-2-2011 by bull621 because: (no reason given)
Originally posted by MEAT10AF
It was extraordinary for a vehicle never used in space before to do so well on its first mission. Putting a crew in the shuttle, even one of only
two, was such a gutsy move for a flight with so much uncertainty.
STS-1 will be the first manned flight using solid rocket boosters. No previous U.S. space vehicle has been manned on its maiden flight.
I thank you again my friend. You have shown me that despite our few differences, we have much in common. We may continue to butt heads but you've
shown me that knowledge is knowing about things but wisdom is knowing about your fellow man. I've got much to learn and thanks for your support,
inspiration and kind words.
My parent took us kids to the space center for that when I was seven, wow that makes even me feel old. We spent the day before at the center then
watched the launch from my dads friends condo 20 stories up from Coco Beach directly facing the launch pad. I will never forget how big and loud that
sucker is. We were on vacation then from up north, we have since moved to Florida not long after to get out of the cold.
I now get to watch launches from the west coast and hear the loud sonic booms when she comes home as it flies right over our area. The last real
president we ever had was cool enough to visit that launch. Ole Regan was a trooper.
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