The space shuttle “Atlantis” launches with a possible spy satellite cargo on board

During the first Gulf War, America and its allies flew thousands of missions over Iraq, and did not lose a single plane in combat. Not that Iraq did not have air defenses — it did, and they were bulked up just before the war — but America’s ace in the hole was a spy satellite transmitting coordinates of all Iraqi defense installations, which were then hit by unmanned supersonic missiles. American military leaders evidently liked what they saw, and after the war decided to launch a couple more satellites with more up-to-date technology.

On this day, February 28, in 1990, the Space Shuttle Atlantis took off, “chartered” by the United States Department of Defense to deliver a classified payload into orbit. Their non-disclosure did not stop others from speculating that it was an Electronics Intelligence (ELINT) satellite.

There was possibly an even more classified undisclosed satellite deployed on the same mission. Amateur observers reported a second object, which soon disappeared. They speculated it may have been a stealth satellite codenamed PROWLER that was designed to spy on other satellites in orbit.