A history of honored names in exploration

The Loss of Columbia

February 02, 2003

The shuttle Columbia was named after another ship that explored new frontiers for America, a sloop based in Boston that sailed around the world more than 200 years ago.

The ship Columbia had sailed from Boston to the Pacific Northwest when Capt. Robert Gray assumed command and took the Columbia on to Canton in China, carrying a cargo of otter skins. He returned to Boston in 1790.

The river Columbia, along the Washington-Oregon border, was also named for the ship, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The first U.S. Navy ship to circumnavigate the globe took the name Columbia, according to NASA's Web site, as did the command module for the Apollo 11 on its mission to the moon.

Columbia, a feminine version of Columbus, as in Christopher Columbus, also refers to the United States.

The workaday name for the shuttle Columbia is OV-102, for Orbiter Vehicle-102, according to NASA.

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