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Satellite Reconnaissance

The next step upward from aerial reconnaissance is orbital reconnaissance. From orbit, satellites can monitor vast areas in great detail.


Discoverer-13 Reentry Capsule

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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).

November 1999 Landsat
image of inset area
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In February 1995 President Clinton signed an executive order releasing previously classified satellite reconnaissance photography dating from 1960 to 1972. This recently declassified image from August 1962 shows the Aral Sea in the former Soviet Union. Detailed images such as this one may be useful to scientists studying global environmental change over the past decades.
Image courtesy of the National Archives
This Landsat image of the Aral Sea from August 1987 shows the extent of the environmental disaster that has occurred there. Excessive use of pesticides and unwise irrigation practices have poisoned and shrunk this once large and bountiful sea. Compare this image with the one to the left.
Image from EROS Data Center

Satellite Retrieval

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Aircraft catches 1960s era reconnaissance-type satellite during its reentry.
Department of Defense Photograph.

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President Dwight D. Eisenhower with a successfully retrieved Discoverer capsule.
Courtesy of Dwight D. Eisenhower Library

Reconnaissance Satellite Launches

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Photographs courtesy of CIA

Presidents and Reconnaissance Orbital Vistas

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