The first actual launch was on April 12, 1981, when the Columbia spent two days in space and returned home safely. Ironically, the last Space Shuttle mission as of this time was also by the Columbia. On February 1, 2003 the 107th Space Shuttle flight burned up on re-entry, killing all seven crew members.
The Space Shuttle provided a way to get into space and return to Earth in a ship capable of landing like a regular airplane. Many valuable scientific experiments were carried out on the shuttles. The ships also aided in the construction of the International Space Station.
President George W. Bush has chosen to retire the Space Shuttle fleet by 2010.