NASA workers and flight crews on Wednesday observed the 25th anniversary of the first space shuttle flight with equal parts pride and optimism.
The flight director who oversaw the first space shuttle launch a quarter-century ago told NASA employees that they are in an enviable position.
"You have a new toy coming," retired flight director Neil Hutchinson said, referring to the development of a new spacecraft to replace the shuttle.
In April 1981 — when space shuttle Columbia was the new toy — the two astronauts who flew its maiden voyage knew it was risky and groundbreaking.
"When the solids lit, obviously I knew we were headed someplace," said Bob Crippen, who piloted Columbia's first solid rocket booster-propelled flight. "I just hoped it was in the right direction."
The American shuttle program has taken twice as many humans into space as all other countries combined, and lifted the most mass into orbit while significantly advancing science.
The shuttle remains the world's only completely reusable space vehicle.
There was little mention Wednesday of the two shuttle tragedies that killed 14 people.
NASA has launched 114 shuttle missions, but only one shuttle has flown in the years since the 2003 Columbia tragedy. The agency is aiming for a July launch of Discovery.