Early concept art seen here.
"They hoped to snare Soviet spacecraft in such a fashion -- and because Moscow might defend such assets by deploying an antisatellite weapon, the Air Force took the view that if the thing was to be done at all, it was best to do it quickly. A once-around [the Earth] mission could snare such a spacecraft and return safely by the time anyone realized it was missing."
And while the Shuttle may have never fulfilled its thiefly purpose (as far as we know), that doesn't mean it was any less a tool of the military. Nowhere was NASA's intelligence role more apparent than in the day-to-day espionage bullshit that astronauts had to deal with. With the Air Force, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the CIA all having their fingers equally jammed in the Space Shuttle pie, many of the Shuttle's flights were of the classified variety.
Stocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images
"Sir, why are we positioning the Hubble directly over your ex-wife's--"
The Air Force-NRO control center for these "secret" Space Shuttles was in sunny Sunnyvale, California. But no one was supposed to know that, and the astronauts involved in the missions weren't allowed to speak of the place by name and were forced to endure a roundabout Planes, Trains and Automobiles-style madcap adventure to get there undetected. Nonetheless, when the crew of the top-secret Mission 51C puttered up to their rundown motel in their nondescript rental car to report for training in 1984, they were greeted by a giant banner reading "WELCOME, 51C ASTRONAUTS." So maybe they couldn't have gotten away with the satellite-snatching thing after all.