TechnologyLunik: Contained in the CIA’s audacious plot to steal...

Lunik: Contained in the CIA’s audacious plot to steal a Soviet satellite tv for pc


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The paperwork contained some element in regards to the secrets and techniques gleaned from the mission: “Covertly, we had been in a position to purchase detailed knowledge in regards to the upper-stage rocket automobile … the Lunik stage which mates on to the Soviet ICBM.” After discovering the weights of the propellant tanks and payload, the US may reverse-engineer the automobile’s efficiency functionality.

Precisely what area probe sat within the lumber yard that night time continues to be unclear. Silveti assumed he had stolen Luna 3, the precise spacecraft that photographed the far facet of the moon. However that’s bodily unattainable: the craft was not constructed to face up to reentry. In accordance with Gunter Krebs, a spaceflight historian and physicist, on the time of the heist, Luna 3 was seemingly spinning across the Earth at a distance of 310,000 miles, being steadily drawn into the Earth’s ambiance. In accordance with Jonathan McDowell, the Harvard astrophysicist, what that they had almost certainly stolen was one of many Luna 2 craft which had not been a part of a profitable launch. 

The stolen info got here at simply the proper time. Simply months after the Luna caper, the US efficiently orbited a CORONA spy satellite tv for pc 17 occasions across the Earth. “Lastly, after many, many failures, they acquired it working,” McDowell says. “It was a really, very massive advance … and it utterly reworked the arms race.” On August 19, 1960, one other CORONA satellite tv for pc despatched a capsule again to Earth, the place a US Air Drive airplane grabbed it in a mid-flight maneuver known as an air snatch.

Contained in the probe was a 20-pound reel of Kodak movie capturing 1.65 million sq. miles of Soviet territory, together with pictures of Soviet air bases. The CORONA pictures had been low decision, McDowell says, so having accessed the Luna helped the CIA know precisely what rockets they had been wanting down at. “Since you had truly seen the rattling factor and held it in your palms,” he says. 

“The Air Drive mentioned ‘we want tens of 1000’s of missiles.’ And the CIA got here alongside and went, ‘We’ve counted the Russians’ missiles and it’s not as dangerous as we thought.’”

“We’re used to pondering of the CIA because the dangerous guys, proper?” mentioned McDowell. “However, you understand, the Air Drive was like, ‘Oh, we want tens of 1000’s of missiles.’ And the CIA got here alongside and went, ‘We’ve counted the Russians’ missiles and it’s not as dangerous as we thought.’” Realizing that the Soviets had far much less rocket energy than the CIA imagined took the sting off American paranoia. College kids now not hid beneath their desks, because the duck-and-cover program was slowly stepped down.

The Chilly Conflict rumbled on for many years, typically taking America to the brink of nuclear battle. However the US shortly took the lead within the race to the moon. On Could 5, 1961, NASA launched its Freedom 7 spacecraft, sending the primary American astronaut into area, Alan Shepard. Winston Scott’s adopted son, Michael, advised me he had all the time been puzzled by a signed {photograph} of Shepard he present in his father’s papers.

As for Luna 3, the precise probe that photographed the far facet of the moon, its whereabouts are “not fairly clear,” Krebs, the area historian, wrote in an e mail to me. Someday earlier than 1962, he added, it might have reentered Earth’s ambiance and melted into an infinite fireball.

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