Columbia: What's in a name?
by Ian Kluft
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
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.
- A privately-owned sailing ship, which the shuttle orbiter Columbia was
named for, sailed out of Boston in 1792.
It explored the Pacific coast of North America, including the mouth of
the Columbia River, which was named for it.
(The Columbia River today forms most of the border between the states
of Washington and Oregon.)
- A 44-gun sailing frigate for the US Navy was burned while under
construction in the Washington Navy Yards in 1814 to prevent it from
falling into the hands of the enemy as the British took the city of
- The first USS Columbia was a 50-gun sailing frigate, and
one of the first US Navy ships to circumnavigate the globe in 1838.
It served as the flagship of the Home Fleet until 1856, after which it was
stored at the Norfolk Naval shipyard in Virginia. It was destroyed by
retreating Union forces to avoid falling in Confederate hands when the
Norfolk shipyards were captured in 1861 when Virginia seceded
during the Civil War.
After the war, the ship was raised, restored and sold in 1867.
- The sixth USS Columbia was in service from 1942 to 1946.
It participated in the allied island-hopping campaign against Japan.
Columbia was hit by 3 kamikaze planes in two separate battles in January 1945.
It was saved by heroic efforts of the crew, completed its mission to
provide fire support for landing troops, and then repaired to return to the
war by June 1945.
- The NASA Apollo 11 command module on the first lunar landing mission
in July 1969 was named Columbia.
- The NASA space shuttle orbiter Columbia was the world's first reusable
It flew into space 30 times from 1981 to 2003.
It was lost on re-entry with its crew of 7 astronauts on Feb 1, 2003.
The US Navy's current ship named Columbia is the seventh one to hold
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...
- Washington, District of Columbia
- our nation's capitol
- Did you forget what "DC" stands for?
- founded as a planned city for the nation's capitol in 1790
- Columbia, South Carolina
- Columbia County, Florida
- Columbia County, Gerogia
- Columbia County, New York
- Columbia County, Oregon
- Columbia County, Pennsylvania
- Columbia County, Washington
- Columbia County, Wisconsin
- Columbia, Howard County, Maryland
- founded as a planned city in 1966
- Columbia, Boone County, Missouri
- Columbia, Maury County, Tennessee
- county seat
- home town of James Polk, 11th President of the United States
- Columbia, Monroe County, Illinois
- Columbia, Marion County, Mississippi
- Columbia, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
- Columbia, Houston County, Alabama
- Columbia, Tuolumne County, California
- founded in the 1849 California Gold Rush
- quickly became the second largest city in California
- now only a small mountain town with a big history
- Columbia State Historical Park
- Columbia Airport (O22)
- STS-107 Columbia space shuttle re-entry on Feb 1, 2003 was visible
high in the pre-dawn sky from Columbia, CA
(25 miles north and 42 miles up)
- Columbia, Tolland County, Connecticut
- Columbia, Caldwell County, Louisiana
- Columbia Station, Lorain County, Ohio
Back up to
Ian's space shuttle pages