A Brief History
On February 28, 1959, a Thor-Agena A rocket was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, carrying a spy satellite designated Discoverer 1, the first in a spy satellite program of the American military and intelligence network.
Discoverer 1 was intended as the first ever satellite to orbit the Earth via the poles rather than on an equatorial orbit, and was part of the CORONA program. Actually a testbed, Discoverer 1 was not equipped with the camera and film that later satellites of the KH-1 type would carry.
Unfortunately, the star-crossed spacecraft failed in its mission and is believed to have crashed somewhere in the area of the South Pole. Later launches would prove more successful, with the photographic reconnaissance satellites taking pictures of the Soviet Union and dropping film capsules all the way from space back to Earth for recovery by photographic analysts.
Satellite reconnaissance was vital to US security with the advent of ICBMs and the need to keep track of Soviet missiles, the intel community being well aware that our manned recon airplanes such as the U-2 would quickly become a non-viable reconnaissance option.
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For more information, please see…
Day, Dwayne. Eye in the Sky: The Story of the Corona Spy Satellites. Smithsonian Books, 1999.
Peebles, Curtiss. The Corona Project: America’s First Spy Satellites. Naval Institute Press, 1997.
The featured image in this article, a photograph of Discoverer 1 satellite, before launch, is a work of a U.S. Air Force Airman or employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image or file is in the public domain in the United States.
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