The space shuttle Endeavour is scheduled for its final mission into space this morning before it’s retired leaving just one more mission for the shuttle program this summer.  After more than 30 years it’ll bring an end to a fleet of spacecraft that have been called the finest and most versatile ever built.

Columbia was the first shuttle launched on April 14th, 1981 exactly 20 years after the first manned space mission.  But even after years of testing there were a number of problems that came up during that first flight including a major one that if the astronauts knew about, they likely would have aborted the mission, ejected and lost the Columbia on its first flight.

Excessive pressure from the solid rocket boosters on take off damaged the heat shields on the shuttle and also damaged the shuttle engine flaps.   Sixteen heat tiles were lost and 148 of them damaged on that first flight.  Excessive heat on re-entry also damaged one of the wheel wells buckled the wheel doors and part of the landing gear.  Those were problems that threatened the success of the mission and put the lives of the astronauts in jeopardy. 

There were some other problems too, one of them simply made the mission unpleasant for the astronauts.  An issue with the toilet forced them to do some clean-up after they chased around – let’s call it liquid and solid waste floating around the inside of the shuttle. 

They were all problems that were fixed for future missions.