I just came upon this article from the Discovery Channel, and it tickled some memory cells.
Back when we just started lobbing imagery satellites up into low earth orbit, we didn’t have the comprehensive ground systems and bandwidth of today. There was no such thing as a digital camera to be used as a payload. For nearly 13 years instead, there was film, a satellite publicly called Discoverer, and a very secret program called Corona.
“WAIT!”, you might exclaim, “FILM–YOU MUST BE JOKING. HOW DID THEY GET IT BACK? SPACE MONKEYS?”
Well, space monkeys are fantastic, but there is another way. An old-fashioned crazy way, starting in 1959. For you Thunderball fans out there, it’s almost the same sort of retrieval (not quite, different airplane, different hook system). Please read the article–there’s even a video for you there.
- The birth of the spy satellite (dvice.com)