Between the Sun and the Earth
The First NRO Reconnaissance Eye in Space
Robert A. McDonald, Ph.D.,Editor
Published by The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, Bethesda, MD
This article is based on the monograph copyrighted and published in 1997 by The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS), located at 5410 Grosvenor Lane, Suite 210, in Bethesda, MD, USA. The ASPRS has been America’s professional society dedicated to the development of the art and science of photogrammetry, remote sensing, and geographic information systems since its founding in 1934 (see the forward to the text by former Director of Central Intelligence, Richard Helms). On February 22, 1995, President Clinton authorized the declassification and public release of imagery acquired by Corona, the first US reconnaissance satellite, America’s earliest successes in taking pictures of the earth’s surface from space. What follows are extracts from the introduction and chapter abstracts. They give the flavor of the text but are not meant to be a replacement for reading the whole, exciting story. The comprehensive collection of articles in the ASPRS monograph opens the formerly classified Corona story, first to historians and remote sensing specialists, but more importantly to those in the general public who have an interest in the Cold War and space technology.
These copyrighted extracts are reproduced with the collaboration of the editor, Dr. Robert A. McDonald, of the National War College, National Defense University, Washington, DC, by permission of the ASPRS.
For information on purchase of the hard-cover text of the monograph, contact the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS), located at 5410 Grosvenor Lane, Suite 210, in Bethesda, MD, USA.
In 1965 there was a Broadway hit, Man of La Mancha, in which Don Quixote, the illusion of protagonist, Miguel de Cervantes, sang of an impossible dream. At this same time during the 1960s there was a national security intelligence “hit”–a secret, US intelligence program for space reconnaissance. This program, Corona, grew out of imaginative thinking and appeared to be an impossible dream. It was designed to “right the unrightable wrong” of being denied information by the Iron Curtain. It was targeted to help “fight the unbeatable foe” of the Cold War Soviet Union. Launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, it reached out into orbit and became an unreachable star that could watch the Soviet Union.
Corona was the world’s first imaging reconnaissance satellite and operated during the height of the Cold War to collect pictures over the denied areas behind the Iron and Bamboo Curtains. During its operational life, this satellite program collected over 800,000 images in response to the national security intelligence and mapping requirements of the time. On the average, individual images covered a geographic area on the Earth’s surface of approximately 10×120 miles. Corona had sister programs, Argon for mapping imagery, and Lanyard, a short-lived program designed for higher-quality imagery.