Military Review

How the CIA stole a Soviet satellite

34

Model of the station "Luna-3" in the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics


The Soviet space program made a very strong impression on the West. The launch of the first satellite, the beginning of the lunar program, the flight of the first man into space made many dignitaries in the United States very nervous. The Soviet Union led the space race in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This meant that Washington's potential adversary possessed more advanced missiles and technology.

The Soviet space program Luna, which is known in Western literature as Lunik, added fuel to the fire. Space launches within the framework of this program were carried out by the USSR from 1958 to 1976. The first successful launch took place in 1959. In the same year, on October 4, the automatic interplanetary station (AMS) "Luna-3" was launched, which was the first to transmit photographs of the far side of the moon to Earth. Also, within the framework of the flight of this station, for the first time in practice, a gravity assist was carried out.

It is believed that it was the success of the Luna-3 spacecraft that was the trigger that actually launched the space race between the USSR and the USA. Thanks to the success of the Soviet station, NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) were created in the states, and funding for space programs and technologies was significantly increased. At the same time, American intelligence began to show particular interest in the Soviet space program and lunar satellites.

The USSR talks about its triumph to the whole world


1959 was the year of triumph for Soviet cosmonautics. The automatic interplanetary station "Luna-3" did what many could not even imagine. The station took photographs of the opposite side of the moon, invisible from Earth, these photographs became public. At the same time, the United States had no success at all in sending satellites to the Moon.

It was a blow to the national spirit and identity. The United States understood the importance of Soviet discoveries for international science, as well as for all space lovers. At the same time, Washington rightly feared that the USSR, which in those years was perceived as nothing more than an enemy, received at its disposal more advanced rocket boosters and technologies than were at the disposal of the Americans.


The first image of the far side of the Moon, taken by the AMS "Luna-3"

The lagging behind the United States in the space race was the reason for the creation of a special CIA program. American agents studied all possible information about the Soviet space program that they could get to. Even just the launch dates were of interest, since the United States adjusted its own launches to them in order to keep pace with the enemy.

Soviet satellites and space stations were of particular interest to the CIA, the American military and engineers. And here the Americans are just very lucky. The Soviet Union in 1958 began a large-scale program of exhibitions of achievements in science, technology and culture. In 1959, such an exhibition was held in New York, and in Moscow, in turn, a similar American exhibition was held.

The exhibitions were held by the All-Union Chamber of Commerce in accordance with the decree of the Central Committee of the CPSU of January 13, 1958. It was a large-scale program. For several years, exhibitions have been successfully held in dozens of countries around the world. Taking advantage of the general interest in the successes of the Soviet space program, Moscow decided to demonstrate to the whole world the positive image of the Soviet state by organizing exhibitions of the achievements of science and technology. In 1961 alone, the USSR organized 25 foreign exhibitions.

To the great surprise of the American side, the Soviet Union took to some exhibitions not a model, but a real sample of the automatic space station of the Luna project, albeit incomplete. Initially, the Americans believed that only models would be presented at the exhibitions. But a number of experts immediately believed that the USSR could present a real ship, as it was very proud of its space program. So in the end it happened.

Operation The Kidnapping of the Lunik


Realizing that the USSR was carrying a real lunar satellite to exhibitions, the CIA developed and carried out an operation to study it. It is only important to note that, most likely, it was a test model, albeit as close as possible to the original. This is indirectly stated in the report itself, which discloses the number of the assembled device.

An article titled The Kidnapping of the Lunik in 1967 was published in a CIA departmental magazine by Sydney Wesley Finner. Scans of this article can be found today in the archives on the NASA website. At the same time, some of the information is still classified, large chunks of text are still hidden from the eyes of readers. In the United States, material about this operation was also published in the popular science magazine Popular Science as early as 2015 with links to archival documents on the CIA's own website, but these links are currently not available.


Soviet International Exhibition in Mexico City, 1959

It is not known - during their stay in which country and during which of the exhibitions, American agents gained access to the Soviet satellite. Some speculate that it could have been Mexico. The exhibition was held here from November 21 to December 15, 1959. In any case, this is not known for certain.

The Americans filmed the satellite, which they called Lunik, from all sides during a demonstration in the exhibition hall. We studied the external structure and appearance of the device, but this information was already available to all visitors of the exhibition. Much more interesting was what was inside the satellite. However, it was not so easy to get access to it, 24 hours a day, Soviet specialists were with him, who guarded the object even after the exhibition was closed for the night.

The only way to gain access to the satellite was considered by the CIA to intercept the object while it was being transported from one city to another. American agents received information about the transportations, having learned that the satellite would be taken by road to the railway station, where they would be loaded onto a carriage. The idea was to take possession of the satellite in this chain before unloading at the train station.

They planned to steal the satellite at night, disassemble it, study it, reassemble it and pack it in a box, and then deliver it to the station in the morning, hand it over to the receiving side for sending to the next city. The Americans set up so that the satellite was loaded onto a car with one of the last exhibits. After monitoring and making sure that Soviet specialists and agents were not escorting the truck, the Americans began to act.

Just in front of the train station, the truck was stopped by American agents posing as local residents. They escorted the truck driver to the hotel, and covered the truck with a tarpaulin and drove him to the nearest landfill. Having chosen this location because of the high three-meter fence, which hid the agents from prying eyes.

The released report does not say a word about how the CIA agents forced the truck driver to go to the hotel. Perhaps he was simply bribed. At the same time, it is obvious that the driver was not killed, since in the morning it was he who delivered the truck to the train before loading. Moreover, the guard at the station accepted all incoming goods, marking the boxes. But he did not have a list of goods (what is in which box), as well as the exact time of arrival of the goods.

How the CIA stole a Soviet satellite
Drawing of Lunik's internal structure from a 1961 CIA report

The CIA agents did not believe in their luck. They waited for half an hour near the driven off truck, and only after making sure that no one was watching them, they started to work. In total, four people took part in the operation. They tried to remove the lid from the box so as not to leave marks on the tree. Fortunately, the box had already been opened and closed many times, so the boards were already showing signs of wear. No one would have noticed extra scratches on them.

While two people were opening the box, two other members of the group were preparing the photographic equipment. The spacecraft lay on its side in a box measuring 20 feet long, 11 feet wide and 14 feet high (approximately 6,1 x 3,35 x 4,27 m). The device occupied almost the entire space of the box, so it was difficult to move freely inside. Curiously, the report specifically notes that the agents worked inside the box wearing socks.

Having disassembled the satellite by the light of flashlights, they took plenty of pictures of the contents of the spacecraft. Although there was no engine inside, there were mounting brackets, an oxidizer tank, fuel tanks in place, which allowed experts to imagine how big and powerful it could be. After carefully examining and photographing the contents, including the electronic components inside, the American agents reassembled without taking any parts.

It is worth noting that during the work they had to unscrew about 130 square-head bolts and forge one plastic seal with a Soviet stamp. The operation, which began at 19:30, was completed by 5 a.m. when the satellite, fully assembled in a newly closed box, was placed on a truck. The driver was summoned to the scene, who drove the truck to the station, where until 7 o'clock he waited for the return of the guard, to whom he handed over the delivered box.

The report notes that the CIA does not know anything about whether they discovered in the USSR the fact that the spacecraft was seized at night and some manipulations were carried out with it. The CIA did not come across any indications of this.

Based on the results of processing the information received, the Americans established that they were in front of the sixth manufactured lunar satellite (possibly, it was the E-1A No. 6, which was never launched). The information obtained also allowed the CIA to identify three manufacturers of equipment for the Soviet space program and establish a number of other details, the value of which for the American space program remains unknown or hidden in the report.
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  1. mark1
    mark1 4 May 2021 06: 05
    -9
    The first photograph of the reverse side proved that the Moon is as round from the reverse side as from the "obverse".
    And the Americans, in addition to general impressions about our technologies and information about 100% availability of a pair of manufacturers, in principle, did not receive anything
    1. maksbazhin
      maksbazhin 4 May 2021 07: 46
      +8
      And the Americans, in addition to general impressions about our technologies and information about 100% availability of a pair of manufacturers, in principle, did not receive anything

      Conclusion from the article or knowledge of the subject?
      1. mark1
        mark1 4 May 2021 07: 53
        -2
        Quote: maksbazhin
        Conclusion from the article
  2. Olgovich
    Olgovich 4 May 2021 06: 09
    +6
    an amazing solution - to send a satellite with a filling to the exhibition - after all, no one sees it anyway. And what's the point?

    making sure that Soviet specialists and agents were not escorting the truck, the Americans began to act.

    there must have been a man from the organs ... request
    1. NDR-791
      NDR-791 4 May 2021 06: 28
      +11
      Quote: Olgovich
      there must have been a man from the organs ...

      That's for sure. Comrade Colonel hasn't had so much fun watching four idiots wrestle in a box for a long time. Comrade Lieutenant received an offer to nail down the lid and bring a driver for the subsequent dispatch of such super-flexible agents to the USSR as proof of good neighborly relations wassat
      1. Hantengri
        Hantengri 4 May 2021 10: 12
        +10
        Quote: NDR-791
        Quote: Olgovich
        there must have been a man from the organs ...

        That's for sure. Comrade Colonel hasn't had so much fun watching four idiots wrestle in a box for a long time. Comrade Lieutenant received an offer to nail down the lid and bring a driver for the subsequent dispatch of such super-flexible agents to the USSR as proof of good neighborly relations wassat

        laughing good "Major Petrov was sitting on high-voltage wires and pretended to read a newspaper." (C)
      2. Intruder
        Intruder 4 May 2021 16: 12
        +3
        Comrade Colonel hasn't had so much fun watching four idiots wrestle in a box for a long time. Comrade Lieutenant received an offer to nail down the lid and bring a driver for the subsequent dispatch of such super-flexible agents to the USSR as proof of good neighborly relations
        the father of the first four-legged cosmonauts of the USSR - "Belka and Strelka", the dog Mukhtar, for a month already, as he was on a special mission in Mexico, he anxiously inhaled the night smell of the city dump, expecting provocations from the American side, this night he had a difficult dog job .. ., upon returning to his homeland, a few weeks after these events, already with an extraordinary rank, he was in the circle of his flock:
        A few months after the flight, Strelka gave birth to healthy offspring of six puppies. Belka and Strelka lived at the State Research and Testing Institute of Aviation and Space Medicine and died at a ripe old age.
        wassat
    2. Blackmokona
      Blackmokona 4 May 2021 10: 06
      +5
      So obviously the people from the organs were resting and enjoying the tour, not the security wassat
      1. Siberian54
        Siberian54 5 May 2021 15: 06
        +1
        Then? Well, you are a dreamer!
        1. Blackmokona
          Blackmokona 5 May 2021 15: 11
          -1
          Corruption and carelessness have always been
  3. APASUS
    APASUS 4 May 2021 10: 44
    +4
    Interesting infa, in light of the preservation of intellectual property, for which Americans are so concerned!
    1. AUL
      AUL 4 May 2021 12: 55
      +4
      And you say - the Chinese ... laughing
    2. Victor Tsenin
      Victor Tsenin 4 May 2021 15: 23
      +4
      They have intellectual property - that's who you need intellectual property. However, it also applies to everything else)
  4. Mooh
    Mooh 4 May 2021 10: 48
    +3
    A very humorous story. The level of carelessness is off the charts. Some not very smart people sent a prototype instead of a model, others even less smart stole it and examined it in a Mexican dump, crawling around in socks on the box, instead of inviting rocket specialists. James Bond is resting.
    1. Fan-fan
      Fan-fan 4 May 2021 11: 26
      +5
      Still, this article is a source of pride. This means that our ancestors possessed technologies that no one dreamed of. Now our young people will not believe that we were in some way ahead of the rest of the world. It is a pity, of course, that along with our great technical achievements, we at the same time showed such carelessness in ensuring secrecy and security.
      For example, even during the Second World War, the Germans were often surprised by our frank radio communications. Or, for example, the famous case when for several years the Americans listened to information from our secret submarine cable in the Sea of ​​Okhotsk, even after it was discovered, the Americans did the same with our submarine cable in the Barents Sea for another 10 years. The lack of labors is surprising.
    2. Hantengri
      Hantengri 4 May 2021 11: 31
      +11
      Quote: MooH
      The level of carelessness is off the charts. Some not very smart people sent a prototype instead of a mock-up,

      Or maybe it was a specially planned "carelessness" and the James Bond in socks saw and photographed what was NECESSARY? It all went painfully easy.
      And the driver who calmly gave the car with the satellite to the spies is generally a song! So it goes into my head:
      "The enemy did not know, you fool:
      The one to whom he entrusted everything,
      There was a Chekist - an intelligence major and a wonderful family man. "(C) laughing
    3. Blackmokona
      Blackmokona 4 May 2021 11: 37
      +4
      And why invite specialists, and not yet specialized ones, to the landfill?
      And their aerospace companies will simply send full films and the measurements that they made, they will calmly study in the offices.
    4. Alien From
      Alien From 4 May 2021 12: 32
      +4
      Sometimes the most incredible stories become true) thanks to the author, I wonder good
    5. Looking for
      Looking for 4 May 2021 15: 18
      +1
      and the third, the most numerous, perceive this heresy at its "face value" and discuss it so purposefully that doubts arise about the state of their mental health. and age.
    6. ccsr
      ccsr 4 May 2021 17: 08
      +9
      Quote: MooH
      A very humorous story. The level of carelessness is off the charts.

      Most likely, this story did not look at all the way the Americans present it, talking about their toughness in conducting intelligence. The thing is that in the USSR there were such strict regime restrictions on the export of Soviet secret equipment abroad that not a single deputy head of the KGB would give permission to export a genuine satellite to a place where we could not control the situation. So, most likely, one of the satellite demonstration MODELS was taken out there, which could be completely different from the satellite that flew to the Moon, and there were no entrails at all. That is why our people were not present during the transportation, and this was entrusted to the receiving party. It is possible that this was specially set up in order to let the Americans follow the wrong path of creating such a technique, tk. all transportation routes are negotiated in advance, and therefore "accidentally" our people were not left to guard such a valuable cargo. Let me remind you that in the USSR there were clear restrictions on the movement of secret equipment even in countries friendly to us, so only naive people can believe in the version of the Americans.
  5. Knell wardenheart
    Knell wardenheart 4 May 2021 11: 44
    0
    This is the real cost of our secrecy - we brought the satellite to LA ourselves, we ourselves missed the night "window" for its study by the Americans. The people who thought it all over from our side were clearly incompetent.
    On the other hand, of course, all this gave the Americans very little - they were able to compare the schematic diagram with their own developments, clarify the characteristics of the launch vehicle, and draw some conclusions suitable for reverse engineering. However, this is not the first story of a stupid plum - on PopMech not so long ago there was an article about how they put the camera in the copier of the Soviet embassy (which, SUDDENLY, was repaired by the Americans).
    1. Hantengri
      Hantengri 4 May 2021 12: 15
      +8
      Quote: Knell Wardenheart
      The people who thought it all over from our side were clearly incompetent.

      Or, on the contrary, they are very competent. It is quite possible that what the Americans "accidentally" saw did not strongly coincide with what actually flew on the "Luna-3".
      1. Catfish
        Catfish 4 May 2021 13: 25
        +9
        But this, in my opinion, is the most plausible assumption. Somehow I do not really believe in the frank lop-earedness of our Office. It is unlikely to be able to resist all atomic secrets and allow the enemy to make a frank gift.
        Good afternoon, Igor. hi
        1. Phil77
          Phil77 4 May 2021 13: 37
          -2
          Lop-earedness? And if worse? Corruption? Well, some people, somehow and here and there.
          1. Catfish
            Catfish 4 May 2021 13: 50
            +11
            Seryozha, what are you talking about, this is 59 years old, and there was not one Office tied up, but the Foreign Ministry, the GRU and the entire Politburo headed by Nikita, this exhibition is an international event, no one would allow secret materials to be exhibited abroad, we kept them secret from ourselves.
            1. Phil77
              Phil77 4 May 2021 13: 54
              0
              Yeah, but if you dig it? * Spiyon is somewhere nearby. * Believe all of them listed, and this is after 91?
              1. Catfish
                Catfish 4 May 2021 14: 20
                +3
                This is not the case, I have already explained. And not everyone in the Office was ugly, like in every other life.
  6. ycuce234-san
    ycuce234-san 4 May 2021 12: 36
    +2
    Just in front of the train station, the truck was stopped by American agents posing as local residents.


    The only option in which an unbribed driver carrying valuables will stop without resistance is disguising the scouts as local Mexican dogs ...
    The masked crew of the "PPSN" brakes the driver and finds a violation, for example, according to the norms of rest and, under this pretext, sends him to the hotel to sleep it off; they take the keys to guarantee. The driver is calm, and calmly hands over the keys to the responsibility of the crew - since he may not see deviations from the norm in what is happening - this is a different country and a different era, and at that time and place and order of movement on the roads there should be different from the usual. In the morning, the driver who sleeps is called to the place and the keys are returned.
    1. Azimuth
      Azimuth 4 May 2021 18: 11
      0
      This is how the KGB introduced its agents. They prompted and helped. I got a medal for the work done and went up for promotion.
  7. Pavel57
    Pavel57 4 May 2021 18: 30
    0
    Operation for a blockbuster, results are good for a CIA director's report, the bottom line is not great.
  8. Cherry Nine
    Cherry Nine 4 May 2021 22: 36
    +3
    Alain Dulles in Soviet literature - writes a Plan of how to ruin the Soviet Union by corrupting the Soviet people with bourgeois values.
    The real Alain Dulles - photographing exhibition models in a Mexican dump. In socks.
  9. Freedim
    Freedim 5 May 2021 10: 46
    +2
    It smells like a fake. Anyone who has seen at least once how and how threaded connections on military space technology are controlled will never believe that something can be unscrewed imperceptibly, unless a casing specially prepared for repeated dismantling. So this is either a beautiful fairy tale, or there was a layout never intended for launches ... a kind of "house for barbies" to optimize the interior of the device.
    1. Siberian54
      Siberian54 5 May 2021 15: 15
      0
      Most likely = a distracting operation by the USSR special services. With that schizophrenic mistrust (the Caribbean crisis, when only the calmness of the Soviet leaders kept the world from a nuclear catastrophe) to each other and such a sweet setup .... ANEKDOT !!
  10. aries2200
    aries2200 5 May 2021 15: 19
    +1
    I think they slipped a doll ... a doll and exhibited for a set-up