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Satellite Reconnaissance: Secret Eyes in Space

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Reconnaissance and Space
Discoverer / Corona
Corona's Mission
Corona and the Cold War
Treaty Verification
 

CORONA AND THE COLD WAR:
A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS


Corona's first successful mission in August 1960 marked a turning point in the Cold War. Before Corona, information about the location, number, and capabilities of Soviet weapons was limited. Although constrained by cloud cover, nighttime, and camouflage, Corona gave the United States a steady stream of photographs covering the entire Soviet Union.

These photographs allowed America's leaders to better gauge the Soviet threat. One Corona veteran said, "It was as if an enormous floodlight had been turned on in a darkened warehouse."


DEBUNKING THE MISSILE GAP

In the late 1950s, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had boasted that his country was turning out intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) "like sausages." Especially after Sputnik, many in the West believed that the Soviets might already have an arsenal of ICBMs, creating a dangerous "missile gap" between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.

Corona photographs proved that the "gap" actually favored the United States, which had deployed more ICBMs than the Soviet Union by the early 1960s. For America's leaders, this knowledge substantially eased fears of a Soviet surprise attack.


This 1962 photograph shows the SS-7 missile base at Yurya in Russia, the first Soviet ICBM complex to be identified in Corona images.
Soviet ICBM complex at Yurya
170 k jpeg
NARA#: 59, RG 263


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