The next step upward
from aerial reconnaissance is orbital reconnaissance. From orbit, satellites
can monitor vast areas in great detail.
Discoverer was the public cover name for Project Corona, a secret program to develop the first satellites for spying on the Soviet Union. Initiated by the U.S. Air Force in the late 1950s, Discoverer's scientific missions masked an effort to send reconnaissance cameras into space. Early missions were plagued with failure. Not until the launch and recovery of this capsule in August 1960 did the program achieve its first success.
The Discoverer-13 capsule was the first man-made object recovered from orbit. It was designed to carry back to Earth exposed film taken by a camera in space. As a test flight, Discoverer-13 carried no film. But about two weeks later, Discoverer-14 returned the first film from space. The Discoverer program quietly ended in the early 1960s, but Corona continued in secret until 1972.
To learn more about Corona, visit the Space Race exhibition (Gallery 114).
Reconnaissance Satellite Launches