The Most Important Space Shuttle Mission Never Happened

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The Space Shuttle was a vehicle designed to do many things, and in a deal with the US Military it was redesigned to make it able to perform a very specific secret mission. The redesign radically changed the Shuttle from the early concepts to the actual design which we saw fly, but, before the shuttle even flew the secret mission had been abandoned.

Most of the details of this mission are in this document found by James Oberg (thanks!)

The shirt is by Oaklandish:

  1. Sam George

    Hmmm I wonder what type of space craft fly on a polar orbit and requires speed. Hmmmm

  2. Bobby Coggins

    It could be argued that this design requirement resulted in the conditions that caused the loss of the Columbia.

  3. Raul Bloodworth

    2 in a day!

  4. Rem smith

    Thanks for your research and time presenting various interesting happenings in space. Useful and educational.

  5. Tom Schmidt

    Interesting Shuttle history about the engineering tradeoffs.

  6. Aadi Sasane

    The way he says, “Hello,it’s Scott Manley” makes my day

  7. Greg Lialios

    The most important mission was the one that blew the comet back in 1998.

  8. JohnE


  9. Elliott Henderson

    This is really interesting. I wonder if they ever considered doing one orbit missions to foreign satellites in order to knock them out of obit or capture for reverse engineering!

  10. HylanderSB

    You scare quote loving the shuttle again and I’ll break those fingers backwards!

  11. milp

    Manly saving, fly Scott!

  12. Warped Space

    Sweet !

  13. sidharth cs


  14. Kyle King

    Hi Scott was this video uploaded earlier and then taken down??

  15. weirdguy_ 05

    This mission would’ve been awesome to have had a movie based off of especially since the film could’ve portrayed the entire mission, in real time, all under around 2 hours.

  16. Joshua Banner

    “We definitely want to grab it.”
    “Wait a minute; we’re not talking about some stray pilot with a MiG, we’re talking about several billion dollars of Soviet state property. And they’re going to want it back.”

  17. Caonabo Javier

    About Shuttle secrets…did you know that, if for any reason, the shuttle could not land on Kennedy Space Center, the next runway ir could use is that of the Las Américas International Airport in Santo Domingo?

    For more than 4 decades the hangars with all the signalling equipment, fire trucks, access trucks, even an operating little hospital with operation rooms and isolation areas are still there on the airport.

    Even to date, that area is treated as a don’t ask-don’t tell part of the Airport, commonlly known as “Los americanos”.

    NASA choose the Las Americas airport due to the lenght of it’s runway, about 11,500 ft (almost 4 km), which can fit all really big airplanes flying right now, even the Antonov 224 and Airbus A 380.

  18. QuantumSpin

    Is it possible to do an EVA from a Crew Dragon capsule?

  19. Shaggy

    Great video!

  20. Axonteer


  21. Rafasha 222

    Hi Scott!

  22. SRFriso94

    I mean, why so clandestine when you wouldn’t use it to steal something you’re not supposed to?

  23. Skipper Vicky

    I remember the 3A n 3B, those were in 2 slides in MIT s space shuttle course

  24. Mark Hancock

    Very interesting, thanks. It is always interesting to learn more about that side of Engineering. It is very easy as an Engineer to get caught up in the technical merits of a project and think that your project will get funded on its technical merits alone; but, that is usually not the case – especially for large projects. For those you have to learn the art of the deal (no reference to Trump intended).

  25. Snurt Groolan

    Is that the Death Star in the background at 3:42?

  26. Andromeda Studios


  27. Adrian Skilling

    Amazing bit of history I never knew. But this was never going to work. Space flight is done slowly and carefully never at a crazy rush like this!

  28. Skippex

    Q: Once the target is captured in the bay of the shuttle, how do they attach it to prevent it from bouncing around in the bay during the manouvers?

  29. stuff & more stuff

    11:32 Launch complex 6 is looking a lot like the KSC2 in that photo

  30. 1323GamerTV


  31. Goofy Rulez!

    So this means the military is indirectly responsible for all the astronauts deaths. It was them that made NASA change from a safe design to the dangerous one they flew with.

  32. RadicalErin

    So we /were/ going to blow up the moon?

  33. Christian

    Haha, there was a Jack Daniels ad before the video. I expected a Single Malt🤣

  34. Gherzahn

    Oh, cool, I see you got Numerical Recipes in C. Good book

  35. Gaming Shark

    Keep up the great work

  36. Elite Week

    Always fantastic!

  37. Tom Mortley

    Think I saw a proposal for this in the documentary “You Only Live Twice”, narrated by Sean Connery.

  38. Gawayne

    I’ve been cutting back on YouTube lately, but Scott Manley is always worth my time

  39. Surfer Dude

    The mission that never happened… Or did it?

  40. Antilazuli

    Watching Space Videos, a good Morning-routine!

  41. Mack Grant

    Scott I haven’t watched your channel in some time but, off topic, what’s your opinion on the et phenomena?

  42. William Kruger

    STS-36 has the most patriotically awesome mission patch ever.

  43. Storms and Saugeye

    I remember Mike Mullane talking about how a version of this had nearly come to fruition but the destruction of challenger put a stop to that. If I recall right, the initial flight was supposed to be STS-62A.

  44. Top Secret

    The crazy part about this is that this one mission type takes less than one hour. That’s a shorter space mission than most Falcon 9 missions. By the time a falcon deploys payload in a particular orbit, the space shuttle was already gliding back to a runway.

  45. Ford Genereaux

    I hate the space shuttle :( not really but it was such a left turn for history

  46. 1323GamerTV

    I’ve taken poops longer than this mission

  47. Damian Reloaded

    Scott, any info on how the Chinese sample return mission from the moon is going to work?

  48. QuantumX YT

    Satelite capture any% speedrun

  49. sara hutch

    That feel when youre watching a Scott Manley video and see he posted a video 5 seconds ago.

  50. Daniel Leca

    She was a death trap, I’m so glad they got rid of her…

  51. djolley61

    Why build one launch facility when you can build two for twice the price?

  52. BradBrass

    Where did you get that AWESOME shuttle mod shown in the KSP Clips?

  53. Player JX1

    Guys, the creator of the X-Plane flight sim created a simulator on App Store for starship called ‘X-Plane:Starship’. I think people here would be interested in landing the starship before Elon does

  54. Whole Nuts And Donuts

    Woah. Well that’s some cool history. 😎

  55. Flompy Doo

    That feel when youre watching a Scott Manley video and see he posted a video 5 seconds ago.

  56. 666MikeRochip

    Thanks from down under 👍🇳🇿

  57. Zaphods BlueCar

    Shuttle 3B – the most important video that never happened… :-)

  58. Alasdair Black

    Just imagine the US reaction if one of their space assets was hijacked!

  59. 1323GamerTV

    Ive been waiting for this video from you for years

  60. Michael Dunne

    Interesting clip. Now was that a shot of the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) about 6 minutes in (when conveying what capture / retrieval would look like)? If so, pretty cool – That was a 30 by 14 foot unmanned lab that ended up in orbit for a very long time…

  61. D Mentia

    Dear Scott,
    I haven’t watched your videos in years, despite being subscribed, and Youtube stopped showing them.

    Until this one, years later. This one is apparently a hit in the algorithm and I’ve missed you. Nicely done, making something so good it steers me back in

  62. Elopeous

    when the vid was called shuttle 3B

  63. Jay The Amazing Toaster

    2:02 “This large payload bay meant the orbiter no longer had room for massive fuel tanks.” The cargo bay size wasn’t really the issue, there were plenty of integrated fuel tank designs with the 15ft x 60ft payload bay such as the 1971 North American Rockwell’s NAR-161 design.

  64. Digital Dan

    Even though I’m no country music fan, I do miss the “twang.”

  65. TheRich464

    Thanks Scott! amazing as always!

  66. Ed Duncan

    Wow imagine watching that mission at Vandenberg

  67. Tim Gallagher

    I have a copy of ‘Numerical Recipes in C’
    Maybe I can be as cool as Scott someday?

  68. Nathan Commissariat

    Haha LOOK AT ME GUYSSSSS I am 431st!!! Yayayayaya

  69. Stick Mann

    The best part is when the Kerbals Space their Program

  70. BGerbs66

    Nothing like hearing about my dream spaceship as a kid on my birthday. Thanks for posting Scott!

  71. Tim Gooding

    My favourite rocket the Delta IV Heavy.

  72. Jason Last

    I tried to save the first upload to watch later and I lived to regret it…

  73. W P

    Fun fact for Russia, the open skies treaty has been scrapped now along with the 2 specialized OC-135B airplanes as scrap.

  74. Jeroen Zijlstra

    Q: How many space shuttles in “Moonraker” the James Bond movie?
    I: I want to know the location of that station.
    U: ?

  75. CocoaButt

    I want for there to be a reason to do this with Starship.

  76. EricTheDetailer

    Fun fact.
    Sometime in the mid-80s I worked for a company that was contracted to do the steel construction drawings to retrofit the Vandenberg Assembly Building for the space shuttle. We were given two sets of design drawings, had to sign nda’s and we’re not allowed to copy the designs in any way. We were only contracted to draw the service platforms that folded back out of the way of the launch vehicle so that the Assembly Building could be rolled back. The platforms were designed to fit the profile of the launch vehicle so they had lots of curves and strange angles in order to fold back into the building.
    Fun times.

  77. Jovi Choo

    Hey Scott! Great content!

  78. makecba

    Shuttle 3B D:

  79. Jason

    That launch at 0:18 is beautiful. I’ve never seen a lift-off video follow the shuttle upward like that.

  80. Ian Colquhoun

    The “stealing a Russian satellite” headline never made sense… That’s an act of war, might as well just start launching nukes.

  81. Master Exploder

    I know the space program has aways worked with the military, but this is 🤯

  82. Matt Bartley

    I’ve always heard of mission 3A – launch to the south, deploy a satellite, land immediately – as the cross-range design driver, but I don’t think I’d never heard of 3B. It’s hard to imagine that actually working. Do the plans talk about launch windows? Not only would there be the usual orbital plane constraint, I’d think the phase angle would require a very narrow, if not instantaneous, window. How often would it ever have been possible?
    I also assume this all would require the lighter external tank, and the lighter SRB casings that never got built.

  83. Cern Green

    So are you saying it never happened, or that it “never” happened? Mmmm? (wink, wink)

  84. Normal Universe

    This story was SO FUN! What an epic space mission they were planning for.

  85. ice44567

    I imagine the main point of this plan was just as a safeguard, in case a reconnaissance satellite captured information deemed critical to a war effort or for national security, and there was some issue where they couldn’t get the film back or communicate with it anymore.

  86. Ryan Mooney

    Thank you so much for bringing this mission and its role in shaping the shuttle into the public historiography of the program. It has escaped so many important documentary works, including the recent JJ Abrams Challenger mini-series on Netflix (an otherwise superb production).

    Fun fact: a shuttle mission in polar orbit, had it been necessary to divert to Edwards AFB, would have passed over Los Angeles at about 100,000 ft. and a velocity of Mach 3.

  87. NoFaceMan6

    The most important mission was the one that blew the comet back in 1998.

  88. Aidan Giljum

    did anyone else get the Shuttle 3B noti?

  89. Dobra Espacial

    What a coincidence! I was reading about the influence of the military on the Space Shuttle design in Rowland White’s book Into The Black today!

  90. ޓކހރ-ލއއބޚ

    I remember being in elementary school in the late 80s hearing sonic booms in Southern California, it was such a good time to be a kid and be interested in astronomy.

  91. Nicholas Rehm

    Appreciate all the research you do for these videos Scott

  92. Friday Californiaa

    Last time I was this early, this video was called *Shuttle 3B*

  93. Andy Brown

    All that was missing from the plan was a landing inside the calderra of a volcano

  94. T65Bx

    “Shuttle 3B: The Most Important Scott Manley video that Never Happened”

  95. Devin Dykstra

    I’m so glad Scott still uses KSP to demonstrate these maneuvers for all his videos

  96. gammarayburst

    It seems like the spaceplane concept has a wealth of unrealised benefits, but the pseudo-spaceplane shuttle quashed them for the foreseeable future.

  97. Tangloppen

    “I’m Mott Scanley – sly fafe…”

  98. MrMattumbo

    Sounds an awful lot like a plan to steal a Soviet spy satellite right out of its orbit while it’s in a communication dead zone. I love it, space piracy is way cooler than normal piracy.

  99. pizzajona

    The Vandenberg shuttle facility looks a lot like the original KSC*

    *KSC as in Kerbal Space Center

  100. SpiceX 4K

    This sounds like a balls to the wall crazy plan that was never designed to be used and only designed to be waved around to congress as a capability.

Comments are closed.