The Space Review: Top Secret DAMON: the classified reconnaissance payload planned for the fourth space shuttle mission
Top Secret DAMON: the classified reconnaissance payload planned for the fourth space shuttle mission
by Dwayne A. Day
Monday, July 1, 2019
The first military/intelligence payload ever scheduled to fly aboard the Space Shuttle was a top-secret photographic reconnaissance system code-named DAMON and managed by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). DAMON would have operated inside the shuttle’s payload bay for several days, photographing the Earth below, before the shuttle astronauts brought it back along with its precious cargo of exposed film.
Information about DAMON has never been released before. DAMON was scheduled to launch aboard the space shuttle Columbia in the second quarter of 1982, initially on the sixth shuttle flight. But as the shuttle program kept slipping, DAMON was re-manifested to fly on the fourth and final test flight, known as Orbital Flight Test-4. The STS-4 mission eventually launched in June 1982, with Thomas K. Mattingly and Henry W. Hartsfield Jr. as crew, but DAMON was not aboard, and neither was the third astronaut who most likely would have ridden along to operate it. The project was canceled after hardware was built and the NRO was gearing up for its first use of the Space Shuttle.