Released in 1987, it is also one of the largest playsets in the toyline series. The Defiant is actually composed of three vehicles. One is the Crawler unit which transports the shuttle to a designated location. Second, is the booster shuttle unit on which the third component, the Defiant space shuttle, piggy rides on launch. It is a common misconception that the Defiant shuttle's design is based on the X-33 proposed shuttle design for NASA. In fact, the Defiant was introduced in the comics nearly a decade before the X-33 Venture Star even started development; the Defiant's appearance is based on several lifting body designs from the late 1960s.
Retailing at US $129.99, the cost of the playset - the most expensive toy in Hasbro's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero lineup - led to Hasbro re-releasing the shuttle two years later as a stand alone vehicle called the Crusader, which used the same mold as the Defiant shuttle. The toy also came with a re-painted version of the "Payload" action figure. Using a metal tab that came with the Defiant shuttle, the Crusader could be modified to fit on top of the booster that was included in the original shuttle complex playset.
In the comic books, it is hidden under the desert near the Joe's Utah headquarters. Its knowledge is limited only to official members of the G.I. Joe team, raising suspicion among a new group of Joe rookies. They would have been told, except for a paperwork error. After an incident where the Crawler almost runs over two Joe vehicles parked outside the top-level Quonset huts, rookies Chuckles and Psyche-Out sneak out. They discover the machine's tracks leading to undisturbed sand. They do not understand it has hidden itself underground. 
It is these very tracks which would later bring misery to the Joe team. Satellite photos of the vanishing treads (and a badly timed G.I.Joe football game) are what lead Cobra forces to know where the headquarters is located. . This leads to a later battle.
The Defiant and crew are featured in G.I.Joe Special Missions #28. Payload, Slipstream and Ace take the Defiant into low orbit to discover if Cobra can detect a new military base in the fictional country of Punta Del Mucosa. Payload breaks off the mission to save several teammates, utilizing the Defiant's guns to destroy a Cobra jet fighter. At the end of the issue; Payload makes a safe landing on the USS Flagg. The craft is then featured in a splash page that breaks the fourth wall as #28 is the last issue of the Special Missions line. 
The shuttle is featured in issue #65, where the team goes into orbit to prevent the destruction of US spy satellites by Cobra.  Later, a small team of Joes called Star Brigade launch. The crew include the aforementioned Payload, along with Spaceshot, the craft's co-pilot, Duke, Roadblock and Sci-Fi. 
The Defiant lands inside an asteroid threatening to collide with Earth. By issue #148, its last appearance, it had become damaged, unable to fly. The Oktober Guard, which has also traveled to the asteroid, works with the Joes; Payload and the Russian officer Dragonsky cannibalize the Defiant in order to effect an escape.
The Russian shuttle escapes with everyone on board, the asteroid is destroyed and the remains of the Defiant are obliterated. 
The Defiant shuttle and/or its crawler component made 11 appearances in Marvel G.I. Joe comic books: G.I. Joe #65, 67, 72, 109, 110, 130, 145, 146, 147, 148. GI Joe: Special Missions #28
The Defiant also appeared in the G.I. Joe novel 'Fool's Gold'.