06 June 2008


Having taught a couple semesters of The History of GIS, I was pretty excited when I got to see one of the very earliest spy satellites this past weekend near DC. The top secret Corona Project started in the late 1950s and helped rapidly lead the US into some fairly sophisticated remote sensing territory. Yet, since it was classified, there was limited knowledge of the work by many civilian members of the RS/GIS community. While we had read about it, the photos were always of poor quality and didn't help me fully appreciate the complex workings of the system.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center, near Dulles Airport, has some Corona artifacts on display. I apologize for the relatively poor photo quality, but the circumstances were not ideal and the photos still seemed worth sharing.

Since the satellites used real film, they had bring their real film back to Earth. This meant a multi-step process during which vehicle got into orbit, the camera took photos, and then a small part of the vehicle came back down. And, as the film canister was falling, the Air Force caught the canister in mid-air! Here is the hook:

There were lenses on display as well as parts of the rocket and cloud maps used in the procees:
You could see down into the reels and the canister.

The NASM even had a 1540 light table at which analysts would have sat when reviewing the reels of film.
There was also a little nephanalysis map from Tiros I that was prepared at New Jersey's own Fort Monmouth (now being decommissioned).
The NASM also has the pieces of a Corona rocket and assembly in its location on the Mall. I hope to see it later this summer.

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