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NASA's 30-Year Space Shuttle Program: A Look Back In Photos

First Posted: 07/08/11 11:34 AM ET   Updated: 09/07/11 06:12 AM ET

The launch of the space shuttle Atlantis marks the final flight of NASA's 30-year space shuttle program.

During the past several decades, NASA's space program has made history time and time again, pioneering new technologies, facilitating countless discoveries, and bringing the world into closer contact with the mysteries of space.

NASA writes, "NASA's space shuttle fleet began setting records with its first launch on April 12, 1981 and continues to set high marks of achievement and endurance. Starting with Columbia and continuing with Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, the spacecraft has carried people into orbit repeatedly, launched, recovered and repaired satellites, conducted cutting-edge research and built the largest structure in space, the International Space Station."

Take a look back at the evolution of NASA's space shuttle program in photos in the slideshow below, then check out historic images of Atlantis and pictures from its launch.

Hail Columbia
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A new era in space flight began, when on April 12, 1981 the first space shuttle mission was launched. STS-1 commander John Young had already flown in space four times, including a walk on the moon in 1972. Bob Crippen, the pilot, was a Navy test pilot who would go on to command three future shuttle missions.
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Slideshow images and captions compiled by Alan Zlotky

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Filed by Bianca Bosker  |