Back in June, it was revealed that the National Reconnaissance Office would be gifting NASA with two high-end secret space telescopes. Why an intelligence agency would just unload two expensive telescopes like that remains a mystery, but NASA's perfectly happy to take their leftovers considering the budget they operate under. The agency's now accepting proposals from the community on what to do with their newfound plethora of scopes. Please, nobody suggest a thorough study of Uranus.
National Reconnaissance Office
NASA budgets are famously quite tight, and the space agency's science programs have been under particular strain as of late. At issue is the James Webb Space Telescope, which has been plagued by delays and cost overruns, and has generally made it hard for NASA to do science under budget. Thankfully, the National Reconnaissance Office just happened to have two high-end secret space telescopes sitting around in Rochester, New York, and now they're giving them to NASA.
Check Out These Pictures of a Cold War Satellite That Would Have Gotten You Tried for Treason Last WeekBetween 1971 and 1986, the U.S. Government relied on two types of spy satellites to keep tabs on the Soviet Union and China, among others. These were the KH-9 Hexagon (pictured above via Space.com) and the KH-8 Gambit spacecraft, which flew nearly 60 photographic spy missions for the National Reconnaissance Office. These spacecraft were declassified this past weekend, meaning that they could be seen by we mere civilians for the first time. Both of these spacecraft are still remarkable feats of engineering. The long duration Hexagons, for instance, flew missions hundreds of days long, mapping huge stretches in a single pass. The shorter lived Gambits sometimes used this information to photograph targets in far greater detail. Amazingly, both spacecraft returned their precious images by firing them back to Earth in recovery vehicles that were snatched as they parachuted down by aircraft. This is some James Bond-level craziness.