Corona Between the Sun and the Earth

The Geostrategic Context

The Geostrategic Context


The 1950s had been uncertain and dangerous times. In 1953, the Soviet Union tested a hydrogen bomb; in the summer of 1957 they successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile; and in the fall of that year they launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik. US policy makers were uneasy about what they were seeing and hearing from the Soviets about their military and space successes. There even were those who suggested that the Soviets might drop bombs on the US from space (Studeman, 1995). But the US Intelligence Community had very little hard evidence of the true Soviet military capabilities. "In the absence of reliable information about the nature of the Soviet threat, we had no choice but to build up our own forces" (Deutch 1995). The USSR--with its satellite countries--had become a disciplined, closed society that was suspicious and demonstrated a penchant for controlling the flow of information. At the same time there was growing US public concern over the potential Soviet threat, especially from nuclear weapons. The Soviets had a formidable security service that proved difficult for Western intelligence to penetrate (Helms, 1983). Reconnaissance attempts with high-flying balloons and aircraft only could provide the US with limited useful information. Corona would change all of that with its burst of images. "[T]he intelligence explosion of the century was on, a relentless stream of detailed data which turned analytical work on these so-called ‘denied areas' from famine to feast:" (Helms, 1983).

The objective of the Corona program was to use a space platform to acquire photographic intelligence to help satisfy the requirement for what was viewed as much-needed information. Its engineering was based on theoretical concepts that were yet to be demonstrated and used a technology that was based on neither confident data nor proven hardware. Questions that we take for granted today had yet to be answered: If you successfully launched a camera into orbit, would it work? If you took pictures from a satellite, could they see through the Earth's atmosphere? Could you launch, control, and recover a spacecraft?

Historical Document
Posted: Apr 29, 2013 01:57 PM
Last Updated: Apr 29, 2013 02:16 PM