Check Out These Pictures of a Cold War Satellite That Would Have Gotten You Tried for Treason Last Week
Between 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.
The following images are via Space.com’s excellent write-up on the spacecraft’s unveiling, or otherwise noted.
Above and below, the KH-8 Gambit.