... this post was partly inspired by the Soviet poster [above] depicting the US Space Shuttle together with an impressionistic nuclear weapon. My initial reaction to the poster was: "Aw- those wacky Russians!".
But after a little research my memory was jogged about how much the early Shuttle program was used for 'secret' military missions - and how much more the military wanted and wished to use it. Conspiracy BS ignored; the US Air Force was involved with the 'STS' from the early inception and actually longed for a fleet of their own Shuttles!
A cool 4 billion dollars was spent on a new 'spaceport' at Vandenberg AFB in California for that purpose. From this facility the USAF planned to launch some of their STS missions into polar orbits. The strategic advantage of an orbit 'North and South' is that as the world revolves your spacecraft passes over almost all of the entire globe!
The Vandenberg project was all a big waste of tax-dollars; over-budget, poorly constructed and very politically incorrect! The Air Force never got the funding for their own Shuttles and had to elbow themselves in amongst those egg-head NASA types and their silly scientific objectives.
But the USAF, and their money, remained a significant influence on the 'STS'. In addition to numerous 'shared missions' there were blacked-out all military missions. No info about payload or mission parameters. No cute TV shows from orbit.
All of a sudden we were reminded that many of these smiling, wholesome astronauts, were also grim no-nonsense military pilots.
With the Challenger disaster and increasing emphasis on building the International Space Station the military got fed up with NASA and went back to using conventional boosters to launch it's payloads from both Vandenberg and Cape Kennedy.
Both the USA and the Soviets have always had a considerable military presence in outer-space; from communications satellites to various levels of 'test' equipment for killing the other sides satellites and ICBMs. Many historians consider the political reasoning for the first thirty years of space exploration.. an extension of the Cold War.