April 12, 1981 What's not to like about a manned spacecraft that takes off dramatically, flies flawlessly and comes back to the earth precisely the way it was supposed to? Nothing, and that's the problem. The shuttle era, which began with the launch of the orbiter Columbia on a two-day mission commanded by NASA legend and onetime moonwalker John Young, promised great things. The spacecraft itself was beautifully photogenic, with its orange, whalelike external tank even painted in dress whites for the first handful of missions, until NASA realized it could save hundreds of pounds in launch weight if the decoration were scrapped. The nation fell hard for the shuttle's pretty face, a crush it would eventually regret as a mammoth bill measured in lost dollars, lost time and worst of all, lost lives eventually came due. Still, that first dance was hard to forget.