There was a time when taking photographs meant using film, and that applied to spy satellites as well. So how did the pictures make it to Earth?

With Sputnik newly in orbit above the planet and U.S. governmental agencies in the midst of a 24/7 Russia-induced anxiety attack, in February of 1958 President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave the go-ahead for a reconnaissance satellite program intended to keep a very close, but distant, eye on the U.S.S.R. The classified CORONA initiative (referred to as a science and research mission named Discoverer whenever it was discussed) was a joint effort between the CIA and the U.S. Air Force.

It took two years and a dozen failed launch attempts before the first successful CORONA mission, but on August 10, 1960, the U.S. managed to recover Discoverer 13’s capsule. Starting with Discoverer 14, the CORONA satellites orbited Earth armed with telephoto cameras that were 5 to 9 feet long and equipped to shoot 1.5  to 3 miles’ worth of Kodak 70mm film. Most of that film would be used to snap photos of Eastern Europe and Asia, where a secretive aerial view could give the U.S. a better look at potential missile launch sites and military production facilities.

Story by Jay Moon


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