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Satellite Reconnaissance: Secret Eyes in Space

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Reconnaissance and Space
Discoverer / Corona
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Treaty Verification


In the early 1960s, both the United States and the Soviet Union explored the possibility of sending people to take reconnaissance pictures from space. The U.S. Air Force proposed "Blue Gemini" and a Manned Orbiting Laboratory for manned reconnaissance missions. In the U.S.S.R., the Almaz ("Diamond") military space station and Merkur ("Mercury") spacecraft were designed for this purpose.

The United States abandoned its plans for such programs, but Soviet cosmonauts did some reconnaissance during the 1970s. Both sides relied mainly on less costly automated satellites to gather information about their Cold War adversaries.


In the mid-1970s, the Soviet Union orbited two Almaz reconnaissance space stations, known as Salyut 3 and Salyut 5. A capsule of this type was used to return exposed film to Earth from Salyut 5.

Manufacturer: N.P.O. Machinostroenie

Lent by The Perot Foundation

Salyut 5 film return capsule
68 k jpeg
SI#: 97-16260-7
Soyuz 24 crew member
SI#: 87-9057
Cosmonauts Viktor Gorbatko and Yuri Glazkov did reconnaissance photography from the Salyut 5 space station in 1977.
Cosmonaut Yuri Glazkov
SI#: 87-9108


This Transportnyi Korablí Snabzheniia, TKS (Transport Supply Spacecraft) spacecraft was launched as part of an experimental military space station module, Kosmos 1443, in March 1983. Line art The complex docked with the Salyut 7 space station, and the TKS returned five months later.

The spacecraft is fitted with seats for three cosmonauts, but it never had a crew. It was intended to ferry cosmonauts, supplies, and equipment into orbit, but the TKS and military space station programs were terminated in favor of another program.

Lent by The Perot Foundation

Merkur capsule,  interior
206 k jpeg
SI#: 97-15883-9
Merkur in Gallery
77 k jpeg
SI#: 97-16244
Length: 2 m (6 ft 7 in)
Diameter: 3 m (10 ft)
Weight: 3,800 kg (8,400 lb)
Manufacturer: Central Design Bureau of Machine Building (TsKBM)
Launch vehicle: Proton

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