NASA: https://www.youtube.com/nasa​
The Space Archive: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCITZ...​


This is the story of the space shuttle Atlantis on the STS-27 mission, now i know that this video is a bit different than what we usually do on this channel but ever since I was young the space shuttle has captivated me in a way that no other spacecraft has. 10 year old me was quite saddened to find out about the retirement of the space shuttle. I remember seeing the vehicles that was supposed to replace the space shuttle like the ares launch system and I just could not fathom why we were going back to a capsule from something as cool and majestic as the space shuttle. Even though the space shuttle was a product of the 1980s it looked futuristic. So yeah i have a soft spot for the space shuttle that's why I'm doing this video to look back at a little known sliver of space shuttle history. 

On the second of december 1988, Space shuttle atlantis was on the pad the at launch complex 39B, ready to launch into space, but this mission was no ordinary mission, hidden in the payload bay of the shuttle was a top secret military satellite, well it was top secret at the time, now we know what the payload was, it was a Lacrosse surveillance satellite. It was part of a series of terrestrial radar imaging satellites. But at the time the existence of the satellite was not known to many and it was top secret. Secrecy was woven into this launch, the exact launch time was only made known 24 hours before the launch, all the software they used was classified.  I imagine that tensions were high for this launch; this was only the second flight after the loss of the space shuttle challenger and NASA was taking no chances, They did not go ahead with a launch on the previous day as the weather was too unruly. But on the second of december everything looked good. Atlantis went through her go no go polls and all the trans oceanic landing sites were put on alert, sites ranging from airports in england to morocco to diego garcia in the indian ocean, just in case she needed to make an emergency landing should something go wrong. 

At 9:30 am EST the main engines were lit and Atlantis started its journey to space. The launch went off without a hitch and the astronauts got to work. They used the space shuttles robotic arm to deploy the top secret satellite, but something went wrong and the crew had to do a secret space walk, to fix the issue, but the satellite was away and that was the end of that. 

On the 3rd of december 1988 the crew awoke to some troubling news, Their launch had not been as perfect as they had thought. Review of the launch footage had shown that a bit of the Insulator on the right hand solid rocket booster had broken away and the footage also showed the debris impacting the fragile thermal protection system of Atlantis. If the heat shield was damaged there was no way that atlantis would survive the fiery re-entry into the earth's atmosphere. The crew decided to use the mechanical arm to visually inspect the thermal protection system of the TPS, they looked at the forward part of the payload bay near the nose on the starboard side, all looked well the panels were in place, nothing out of the ordinary. But when they got to the belly of the orbiter they looked on in horror. Let me quote an astronaut on board “We could see that at least one tile had been completely blasted from the fuselage,” hundreds of tiles had white scars on them indicating damage, the loss of one tile was probably survivable but they had no idea as to the full extent of the damage that their shuttle had taken. The arm could not be maneuvered to look at the leading edge of the wing, the area that experienced the most heating on reentry.  Mission specialist Richard Mullane radios NASA and