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Satellite Reconnaissance: Secret Eyes in Space

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Reconnaissance and Space
Discoverer / Corona
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DISCOVERER/CORONA: FIRST U.S. RECONNAISSANCE SATELLITE


In early 1958, a few months after the Soviets launched the first Sputnik, President Eisenhower authorized a top-priority reconnaissance satellite project jointly managed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the U.S. Air Force. It was to launch into orbit a camera-carrying spacecraft that would take photographs of the Soviet Union and return the film to Earth.

The secret spy satellite was dubbed Corona by the CIA. To disguise its true purpose, it was given the cover name Discoverer and described as a scientific research program.

From 1960 to 1972, more than 100 Corona missions took over 800,000 photographs. As cameras and imaging techniques improved, Corona and other high-resolution reconnaissance satellites provided increasingly detailed information to U.S. intelligence analysts.


All photographs here are courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office, unless otherwise noted.

DISCOVERER 13: FIRST SUCCESS

After a series of failures, the 13th Discoverer/Corona mission was successful. A satellite was launched and a return capsule was retrieved from orbit for the first time in August 1960. A week later, Discoverer-14 carried a camera into orbit and returned a capsule containing the first U.S. photographs of Soviet territory taken from space.

Ike  with Discoverer 13 capsule
80 k jpeg
NASM#: 7B-14051

Pointer The Discoverer-13 capsule is displayed in the Looking at Earth gallery.

FIRST SPY PHOTO OF THE U.S.S.R. FROM SPACE

The first photograph of a Soviet military site taken from a spacecraft shows a Siberian air base at Mys Shmidta near the Chukchi Sea. It reveals objects about 12 meters (40 feet) across, as seen from an altitude of more than 160 kilometers (100 miles). Film retrieved from Discoverer-14 covered more Soviet territory than all the earlier U-2 aircraft flights combined.

Discoverer-14 image, August 18, 1960
107 k jpeg
NARA#: 1, RG 263


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