On 12 April 1981, the first Space Shuttle, Columbia, launched from Kennedy Space Center with commander John Young and pilot Robert Crippen
Accustomed to seeing the Saturn V dance and squirm on the pad before gaining altitude, every one of the millions who watched the first launch, live or on TV, gasped in awe as the Shuttle shot skyward like a cork from a bottle. The joy of achievement was palpable. Today, after all the triumph and tragedy of the Shuttle programme, it is worth remembering that this iconic, all-American reusable spacecraft remains the only one of its kind in the world and still represents state-of-the-art engine and heat-shield technology almost 30 years after its first flight.
Raffaello will be packed with spares to support the ISS, which will be a challenge without a regular delivery of Shuttle-borne supplies. NASA rockets designed to return to the Moon by 2020 have been delayed, leaving a gap until at least 2015 before another American manned spacecraft will fly.
The USA's next step depends on a review of human spaceflight plans being carried out by Barack Obama's administration.
STS-133 crew (clockwise from top left) Cdr Steven Lindsey, Benjamin Drew, Shuttle pilot Eric Boe, Michael Barratt, Nicole Stott, Timothy Kopra