The paperwork contained some element concerning the secrets and techniques gleaned from the mission: “Covertly, we were able to acquire detailed data about the upper-stage rocket vehicle … the Lunik stage which mates directly to the Soviet ICBM.” After discovering the weights of the propellant tanks and payload, the US might reverse-engineer the car’s efficiency functionality.

Exactly what area probe sat within the lumber yard that night time continues to be unclear. Silveti assumed he had stolen Luna 3, the precise spacecraft that photographed the far aspect of the moon. But that’s bodily unattainable: the craft was not constructed to face up to reentry. According to Gunter Krebs, a spaceflight historian and physicist, on the time of the heist, Luna 3 was seemingly spinning across the Earth at a distance of 310,000 miles, being regularly drawn into the Earth’s environment. According to Jonathan McDowell, the Harvard astrophysicist, what that they had almost definitely stolen was one of many Luna 2 craft which had not been a part of a profitable launch. 

The stolen info got here at simply the correct time. Just months after the Luna caper, the US efficiently orbited a CORONA spy satellite tv for pc 17 occasions across the Earth. “Finally, after many, many failures, they got it working,” McDowell says. “It was a very, very big advance … and it completely transformed the arms race.” On August 19, 1960, one other CORONA satellite tv for pc despatched a capsule again to Earth, the place a US Air Force airplane grabbed it in a mid-flight maneuver referred to as an air snatch.

Inside the probe was a 20-pound reel of Kodak movie capturing 1.65 million sq. miles of Soviet territory, together with photos of Soviet air bases. The CORONA photos have been low decision, McDowell says, so having accessed the Luna helped the CIA know precisely what rockets they have been wanting down at. “Because you had actually seen the damn thing and held it in your hands,” he says. 

“The Air Force said ‘we need tens of thousands of missiles.’ And the CIA came along and went, ‘We’ve counted the Russians’ missiles and it’s not as bad as we thought.’”

“We’re used to thinking of the CIA as the bad guys, right?” stated McDowell. “But, you know, the Air Force was like, ‘Oh, we need tens of thousands of missiles.’ And the CIA came along and went, ‘We’ve counted the Russians’ missiles and it’s not as bad as we thought.’” Knowing that the Soviets had far much less rocket energy than the CIA imagined took the sting off American paranoia. School kids now not hid underneath their desks, because the duck-and-cover program was slowly stepped down.

The Cold War rumbled on for many years, typically taking America to the brink of nuclear conflict. But the US shortly took the lead within the race to the moon. On May 5, 1961, NASA launched its Freedom 7 spacecraft, sending the primary American astronaut into area, Alan Shepard. Winston Scott’s adopted son, Michael, informed me he had at all times been puzzled by a signed {photograph} of Shepard he present in his father’s papers.

As for Luna 3, the precise probe that photographed the far aspect of the moon, its whereabouts are “not quite clear,” Krebs, the area historian, wrote in an e-mail to me. Sometime earlier than 1962, he added, it might have reentered Earth’s environment and melted into an unlimited fireball.