C&B Notes

State of the Art in ‘72

In the early 70’s, the U.S. Navy achieved an impressive deep-sea mission to recover film that included pictures of important Cold War targets taken by satellite.

It’s a plot worthy of a Hollywood action movie: 40 years ago, the U.S. Navy carried out a daring mission to retrieve a top-secret film capsule that had settled more than 16,000 feet (4,876 meters) underwater on the ocean floor.  At the time, the expedition was the deepest undersea salvage operation ever attempted… On July 10, 1971, a classified U.S. satellite, code-named Hexagon, attempted to return a mysterious “data package” to Earth by ejecting a capsule over the Pacific Ocean.  The capsule’s parachute failed, and the canister slammed into the water with an excruciating 2,600 Gs of force.

Hexagon satellites, which were declassified in 2011, were photoreconnaissance spacecraft that were part of an American Cold War-era spy program.  Since these satellites preceded today’s era of digital technology, Hexagon recorded images on film, sending them back to Earth in capsules that re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and landed within a designated zone near the Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific Ocean.

* * * * *

“The decision was made to attempt the deep sea recovery of the RV primarily for the intelligence value of the film record and secondly to establish a capability for deep oceanographic recovery,” intelligence officials wrote.