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The First Discoverer Missions: America’s Original (Secret) Satellite Program

13 Apr 2019, 14:09 UTC
The First Discoverer Missions: America’s Original (Secret) Satellite Program
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As the Cold War deepened in the 1950s, Americans developed an ever worsening case of paranoia about its primary adversary, the Soviet Union. These fears were heightened not only by Soviet propaganda but also by the lack of any substantive information about Soviet forces deep behind the borders of this enormous and secretive country. Based on the sobering conclusions drawn during White House meetings between Eisenhower and his top science advisors, the USAF issued General Operational Requirement No. 80 on March 16, 1955. This document authorized the development several new systems to obtain photographs over Soviet territory in order to provide useful intelligence about their activities well behind the Iron Curtain.

America’s First Satellite Program
One of the systems to be developed as result of this order was called “Aquatone”. Better known as the U-2, this high-altitude aircraft was designed to photograph the Soviet Union while flying out of reach of their air defense systems. While flights starting in July of 1956 returned much valuable intelligence, the aircraft was tracked from the start by Soviet radar and MiG fighters. USAF and CIA officials knew it would only be a matter of time before an incident stopped U-2 flights ...

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