Spaceheads, Spy vs Spy Week

Corona: Caught in Midair

After Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 was shot down over the Soviet Union, the US Air Force began trying to find ways to spy on the commie bastards without letting our boys get touched. This was the genesis of the SR-71 and of spy satellites. One of the first was publicly called Discoverer, privately called Corona, and took pictures of Russkieland for over ten years.

Digital photography was a pipe dream, so the Corona satellites used special 70 mm Itek cameras and Kodak film. In order to get the film back to the CIA, the film canister was dropped and retrieved in midair. If the canister was not recovered by plane, it could float for a short time so the Navy could get it. At least, until a salt plug dissolved and the whole thing sank and was destroyed. Can’t let them commie bastards get their hands on our pictures! It sounds far-fetched, but of the 13 canisters recovered by February 1962, 9 were recovered in midair. The program overall enjoyed a very high rate of canister recovery, considering the “sneaker net” approach.

The Corona program ran until 1972. It was cancelled after we noticed Soviet submarines sitting under the re-entry zone of a film canister.

[Image Credit: Public Domain]

  • The Professor

    The Corona program led to the KEYHOLE progam, didn't it? Or was there one in between?

    • It was actually the first program in the Key Hole series. The Corona satellites were designated KH-1 (Key Hole 1) through KH-4. Basically, any imaging spy satellite up to the 1980s, or so, if I remember correctly.

  • pj134

    Too bad they cancelled it. After they noticed it that it would have been a good time to fill a secondary balloon with sodium and have a quickly dissolving salt plug. that or disguise a bomb as the camera.

  • Whatever.