On 12 April 1981 the Space Shuttle Columbia lifted off from Cape Kennedy with mission commander John Young and pilot Robert Crippen on board.

Young was a veteran of the Gemini and Apollo programs. He had been to the Moon twice, first as the command module pilot on Apollo 10 then as the commander of Apollo 16. Crippen was a rookie astronaut who had been support crew for Skylab and the Apollo-Soyuz missions.

The Columbia flew a total of 28 missions, disintegrating during re-entry on its last mission in 2003.