Monday, April 13, 2009

50 YA: Discoverer II Success and Failure

A Thor-Agena A booster lofted this test satellite into a Polar Orbit. Discoverer II was a test satellite in the early stages of the Corona program, designed to gather sensitive information about the Soviet Union. Yes, that means it was a spy satellite! Although it did not have the newest spy space camera on board (that would be on Discoverer IV), it did record electronic information and was designed to eject a records canister back to Earth. 

The satellite successfully reached polar orbit, but there was a malfunction in the test of the canister ejection. Instead of landing near Hawaii, it crashed to the surface near Spitzbergen in the Arctic Circle on April 14th. This was the first attempt to recover something from an orbiting satellite.

The picture at top is of a Thor-Agena of 1962, but this version would be very similar. Oh, by the way, this event was influential in the development of the plot for the novel and film, Ice Station Zebra which chronicles the accidental landing of a spy satellite in the Arctic circle and attempts by Soviet and NATO submarines and spies trying to recover the film.

In the picture, a US submarine has broken though the ice at the desolate arctic camp and the sailors search the camp for the missing canister.

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