What are those "funny mission designations" between STS-9 and STS-26?
At one time, there were plans to launch Space Shuttles from Vandenburg Air Force Base in California. Mission designators looked like this:
  
                                              STS-51L
                                                  |||
  Last digit of the Fiscal Year-------------------/||
                                                   ||
  Launch Location (1 for KSC, 2 for VAFB)----------/|
                                                    |
  Alpha designator (L=12)---------------------------/
  12th flight of the 1985 fiscal budget year.
  
  KSC = Kennedy Space Center VAFB = Vandenburg Air Force Base
The designators were dropped after the 2-1/2 year gap between the Challenger incident (STS-51L), and the STS-26 "Return To Space". If you'd like an unprofessional opinon about this system of mission designations, I'd persionally say it did what it was designed to do. It got the public past any possible "STS-13" designation. Comparisons with Apollo-13 would not have been appreciated.

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