STS -27 (English Space Transportation System) is a mission name for the U.S. Space Shuttle Atlantis ( OV -104 ) from NASA. The launch took place on 2 December 1988. It was the 27th Space Shuttle mission and the third flight of the space shuttle Atlantis.


  • Robert Gibson ( third space flight), Commander
  • Guy Gardner ( first space flight), Pilot
  • Richard Mullane ( second space flight), Mission Specialist
  • Jerry Ross ( second space flight), Mission Specialist
  • William Shepherd ( first space flight), Mission Specialist

Mission overview

The original start date of the previous day could not be met due to the weather conditions.

STS -27 was the third flight on behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense. Task and goal attainment were kept secret. It is now known that in the mission of the military reconnaissance satellite Lacrosse was one exposed.

The landing took place on December 6 at Edwards AFB, California. The space shuttle Atlantis was transported back seven days later by a special aircraft to Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Near- disaster

As it turned out after landing, nearly occurred in this shuttle mission to a disaster similar to the Columbia tragedy 15 years later. 85 seconds after the launch, a piece of insulation had come loose from the top of the right solid booster and hit the heat shield of the shuttle. The Mission Control Center (MCC ) had the astronauts therefore before landing to check the plate using a camera on the robot arm of the shuttle. They found many tiles firmly serious damage, a tile was missing completely. The MCC asked the crew to send pictures of the tiles, but this was permitted only encrypted because of the secrecy of the mission, so that only small data rates and image quality were possible. After brief analyzes in the MCC, the white spots were therefore misinterpreted the images as shadows and highlights and communicated to the astronauts worried that the damage within the usual limits subject and there was no danger. Although she stunned this assessment, they still obeyed the MCC and dared the landing.

During the inspection of the shuttle after landing was visible that about 700 tiles were damaged and one was completely absent. The disaster was probably only prevented by the fortunate circumstance that at the exact spot of the missing tile a stronger metal plate was, which served as an anchor for an antenna. The heat shield pointed to the serious damage that may have been found to date on a space shuttle.

Since this mission was the second space shuttle flight after the Challenger disaster, a renewed misfortune would very likely mean the end of space shuttle program. From today's perspective, as the cause of the incident, both the secrecy of the mission, which the MCC was able to analyze only bad pictures to name as well as the poor communication style of the MCC, which did not tell on which assumptions based the conclusion that it was only insignificant damage.