A Look Back at NASA's Shuttle Program

As the final shuttle mission wraps up, here's a glance back in photos at the 30-year program.

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Columbia kicked off NASA's space shuttle program with its inaugural launch on April 12, 1981, carrying two crew members. The orbiter landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California two days later.
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Mission Specialist Sally K. Ride became the first American woman in space in June 1983. The Challenger would also carry the first black astronaut into space a few months later.
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In February 1984, austronauts Bruce McCandless II and Robert L. Stewart performed the program's first untethered spacewalk. In this photo, McCandless relies on a nitrogen jet-propelled backpack to make it 320 feet away from the Challenger.
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Tragedy struck the shuttle program on January 28, 1986 when an explosion destroyed the Challenger and all seven crew members aboard just seconds after takeoff.
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The shuttle program did not return to flight again until two and a half years later with the launch of Discovery, which carried an all-veteran crew for the first time since Apollo 11.
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Atlantis was rolled out in late 1988 for its third mission, which was a classified effort dedicated to the Department of Defense. During its 30-year tenure, the shuttle program completed a variety of different missions for the DOD.
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In 1990 Discovery crew members first deployed the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been collecting an array of images, like the one featured here, ever since.
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After a 15 day and 21 hour-long mission, one of the longest in NASA history, the Columbia crew of mission 90 landed at Kennedy Space Center in May 1998.
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Columbia took off for mission STS-107 on January 16, 2003. The orbiter and all seven crew members on board perished during re-entry over East Texas two weeks later. Less than one year after the accident, President Bush called for the retirement of the shuttle fleet by 2010.
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In December 2008, the shuttle Endeavor was ferried from Edwards Air Force Base in California back to the Kennedy Space Center using a modified Boeing 747. Shuttles frequently relied on these ferry flights when conditions triggered a landing at Edwards.
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Atlantis took off on Friday to complete one final mission before following the other remaining orbiters into retirement.