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A History of Satellite Reconnaissance. Volume 3A - GAMBIT (REDACTED)

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Gambit was conceived while Dwight D. Eisenhower was President of the United States. Thirteen years later, when this preface was written, the system still was the principal reliance of the United States government for surveillance of areas to which that country was denied access. It was, of course, a vastly different system from that first proposed shortly after Gary Powers U-2 ran afoul of a Soviet antiaircraft missile in May 1960. At the time of that incident, the U.S. had no operational reconnaissance satellites and of the two developmental systems with apparent neartime potential, Samos E-1 was conceptually flawed and the other, Corona, had experienced a frustrating succession of operational failures. Four additional photo-satellites Samos E-2, E-3, E-4, and E-5 were at some stage between invention and first launch none was ever to return a single photograph of Soviet territory to American photo interpreters, although that preposterous outcome could not then have been foreseen by any rational participant. In the near panic that followed the discovery that U-2 aircraft could no longer safely overfly the Soviet Union, intelligence specialists devised three major new photo-reconnaissance programs Oxcart the Mach 3, 100,000-foot-altitude aircraft that became better known as the A-11 Blackbird and later fathered the SR-71 and F-12 programs, Samos E-6 designed originally to replace the languishing Corona satellite, and Gambit. Political constraints finally kept Oxcart from fulfilling its considerable promise and Samos E-6 was technically deficient, like its five Samos predecessors. Stubborn CIA and Air Force program managers working with Itek, Lockheed, and General Electric engineers rescued Corona and by late 1960 had collected the evidence needed to demonstrate that Soviet missile rattling was mostly hollow bluster. But in the end it was Gambit that brought back the information needed to proportion the Soviet-American nuclear missile balance.

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  • Military Intelligence
  • Unmanned Spacecraft

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