Columbia: What's in a name?

by Ian Kluft
part of Ian's space shuttle pages

Ever since I was an eyewitness to the beginning of the space shuttle Columbia accident on Feb 1, 2003 and put up a web page with my observations, I've had lots of conversations with people about the accident and space shuttle Columbia itself. One thing that seems to keep coming up is that a lot of people don't realize where the space shuttle Columbia got its name, or how common the name is across America. So I went looking for examples...

The name Columbia is a derivation of Christopher Columbus' name for the first permanently-sustained discovery of the Americas. As such, it has been called "the personification of the United States of America."

The shuttle orbiter Columbia, was NASA serial number OV-102. OV stands for "orbiter vehicle", as opposed to a "test article" such as the was used for the test frames Enterprise and Pathfinder which were never built to go into space. According to NASA Kennedy Space Center's page about Columbia, it was named after a sailing exploration ship. It lists some ships which previously held the name Columbia. And in the list shown below, I found some more. As history has shown, the significance of the name has put some of these ships with the name Columbia into some high-profile or dangerous situations. So you'll see other ships named Columbia in history have been damaged or lost before.

Ships named Columbia

Here's a partial list of ships named Columbia. (references:, )

The US Navy's current ship named Columbia is the seventh one to hold the name. It's a nuclear-powered Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Columbia SSN 771. Its home port is at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (Currently US Navy attack submarines are named after large American cities. The current USS Columbia was named after Columbia, South Carolina.)

Cities and Counties named Columbia

There are at least 21 towns, cities and counties in America named Columbia. And other landmarks named Columbia...
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