Construction began in 1975 at Rockwell

International’s (formerly North American Aviation - North American Rockwell) principal assembly facility in Palmdale,

California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Columbia was named after the historical poetic name for the United States of America, like the explorer ship of Captain Robert Gray and the Command Module of Apollo 11, the first manned landing on another celestial body. Columbia was also the female symbol of the United States.

After construction, the orbiter arrived at Kennedy Space Center on March 25, 1979, to prepare for its first launch. Columbia was originally scheduled to lift off in late 1979, however the launch date was delayed by problems with both the SSME components, as well as the thermal protection system (TPS).Columbia in the Orbiter Processing Facility after delivery to Kennedy Space Center in 1979. The first flight of Columbia (STS-1) was commanded by John Young, a veteran from the Gemini and Apollo programs who was the ninth person to walk on the Moon in 1972, and piloted by Robert Crippen, originally selected to fly on the military’s Manned Orbital Laboratory spacecraft, but transferred to NASA after its cancellation, and served as a support crew member for the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz missions.

Columbia is an unorthodox blend of multiple historical models. Initially commissioned by science magazine Sciences & Avenir, Columbia strikes a balance between rigorous topics and an approachable, informal tone. In its early drafts, the drawings could be considered a “sans-serif version of Times New Roman”, but Jean-Baptiste Levée soon extended the exploration to include the 16th- and 17th-century typography exemplified by Guillaume Le Bé and Christophe Plantin. Columbia also excavates the so-called Elzevir style, an example of permeability between French and Dutch flavours. It is a combination that establishes a confident and trustworthy voice. The type’s restrained nature eschews caricature, giving paragraphs a clean texture while retaining the classical touch expected from late Renaissance typefaces. The family’s lively italics brighten the mood.

Columbia offers two optical sizes which do not follow the expected stylistic features of the genre. For the purpose of space-filling large headlines, Columbia Display has a rather generous x-height and dense coverage, while Columbia, with its smaller x-height, sculpts a more distinguishable word silhouette. Despite its initial relationship to Times New Roman, Columbia rejects the idea of a rotating contrast axis between weights. As a result, Columbia’s oblique distribution of weight is maintained throughout the family.

Design: Jean-Baptiste Levée. Team: Mathieu Réguer, Quentin Schmerber.

Columbia Sans Display specimen

Character set