The CIA audaciously stole a Soviet spacecraft 70 years ago

One day in late 1959 or 1960, four excellent CIA agents worked through the night to disassemble the abducted Lunik spacecraft from the Soviet Union.

One day in late 1959 or 1960, four excellent CIA agents worked through the night to disassemble the abducted Lunik spacecraft from the Soviet Union.

They took pictures of everything, recorded every detail of the construction, before reassembling the ship perfectly and leaving no trace. It was the apple spy spy mission made the first years of the race into space. The goal is to balance the game between the two superpowers, but also contain the risk of turning the cold war into a hot war.

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The Soviet Luna 1 eventually flew around the Sun again.(Photo: NASA).

On January 2, 1959, the Soviet Union launched the Luna program , known by the Western media as the Lunik , by launching the Luna 1 ship . Luna 1 did not reach the Moon, but the next ship reached its destination and became the first spacecraft to reach the Moon in September of that year. A month later, on October 7, Luna 3 sent back the first photographs in the history of the Moon's hidden side.

It was a glorious year for the Soviets on the Moon, while the US achievement was only a few unsuccessful launches. This fact not only dealt a blow to the national spirit, but also greatly affected the psychology of Americans. No matter how excited Americans are about the mission in outer space, they still see the reality that their opponents have bigger boosters and more advanced technologies.

The disparity between American technological levels and Soviet power was the source of an intelligence program implemented by the CIA. By studying spacecraft and Soviet space flights, the CIA expected them to not only anticipate launches, increase public influence, but also adjust the launch plan. American ships to keep pace better than rivals. Even conjectures by people who know the Soviet plan can help the United States know where to focus their efforts to surpass the nation in space. This intelligence operation will also help US leaders prepare to cope better with the Soviet Union.

The CIA intelligence mission focused on information that could be accessed remotely. It was electronic intelligence, tracking and eavesdropping on the data in order to gather full information about the Soviet space flight.

But this is not without challenges. US agents have to accurately predict the time when the spacecraft will be launched, to screen and search information remotely. Post-flight analysis is also an important step. After obtaining the most complete data set possible about the height of the spacecraft, the target planet, the drop point of each missile after completing the mission, the CIA agents will perform extrapolation calculations. about the size and power of the boosters. But this is only part of the problem, because the flight to space is not the same, each flight requires extraordinary efforts to understand what is really happening. At that time, nothing was more daring, more imaginary than deciding to kidnap Lunik .

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The lunar surface was taken from Luna 3. (photo: NASA / Soviet Space Center).

From the end of 1959 to 1960, the Soviet Union organized a series of exhibitions about its economic and industrial achievements in many countries. Among the exhibits are Sputnik spacecraft and Lunik's upper body has been newly painted and equipped with observation windows at the bow. At first, many CIA agents thought that the display Lunik was only a model, but some analysts were skeptical, thinking that the Soviet Union was proud enough to bring a real spacecraft here. This suspicion was later confirmed when CIA agents tried to reach Lunik one evening when the exhibition was closed. That is not a model. Agents aspire to look at the ship more closely. They yearn to discover inside Lunik.

But it's easy said, hard to do. Lunik is closely guarded, so it's impossible to research it before or after the exhibition closes. But Lunik also moves around a lot, meaning it can be "temporarily borrowed" if it has a weak link. And it is true that there are loopholes. The spacecraft and all other exhibits are kept in wooden crates before being transported by the truck to the station, from there by train to the next city. At the platform, a guard recorded each of the delivered boxes. What this guard lacks is the list and expected arrival time of each box. The CIA quickly planned to steal Lunik for one night and will return the train to the station before dawn, in time for the journey to the next city.

Finally, it was time to implement the plan. The CIA arranged for the Lunik crate to be the last item to be removed from the exhibition area. The first step completed. Following closely with the vehicle carrying the Lunik were CIA agents dressed in plain clothes, disguised as locals. Agents blocked the bus at the last junction before arriving at the station, escorted the driver to a hotel, covered the car with a cloth and drove to a nearby old parking lot, where the 3-meter-high wall was surrounded. Everything went smoothly.

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Schematic outline of Lunik's internal structure in the CIA report of 1961. (photo: CIA).

Meanwhile, at the station, the security guard closely monitored the unloading of the delivered containers and returned home thinking that it had completed the mission with the last one. Several CIA agents followed him all night to ensure he did not go to work too early the next day.

Returning to the old parking lot, CIA agents drove through a narrow passage, closed the gate and sealed off the area. They waited nervously for half an hour to make sure they were not being followed. Once reassured, the group turned their focus to the main subject of the night. Before that, they had studied the barrel carefully, knowing that the sides were firmly closed from inside, meaning that the only way to reach Lunik was from above. The two agents were tasked with finding a way to open the lid of the box on the condition that they would not leave any marks on the wooden bars - fortunately the box had been opened many times before making the bars look not new - while the other two agents prepare for the photo shoot.

When the lid was removed, agents realized that Lunik was taking up most of the space, meaning they could not move inside the box. Therefore, the group is divided into two halves, focusing on the first part while the other half learns about the tail of the spacecraft. Agents took off their shoes, climbed down the ladder and started exploring Lunik. They used up a whole film just to capture the antenna and sent to process. They want to make sure the cameras are still working. Fortunately, the information returned is perfectly clear.

The two agents in charge of the aft of the spacecraft disassemble the base to learn about the engine inside. Although the engine is not there, the mounting brackets, fuel tanks and oxidation tanks are enough to help the professionals visualize the size and power of the engine. On the bow of the ship, agents spotted a hard bar running along the hull, fixed by a four-way power outlet that looked like a screw. The power outlet is covered with a plastic part with a sealing stamp. It was the only "gateway" to find out the inside of the ship, but if the stamps were lost the Soviet guards would know that someone had pricked their spaceship. Unwilling to give up for just a piece of plastic, the agents talked to their CIA colleagues about whether the sealed stamps could be cloned in order to reattach the ship. Correct answers from colleagues help them gain the confidence to cut a piece of plastic in half. The seal is then sent to clones while agents begin to learn about Lunik's internal structure.

Agents work through the night. When dawn came, the party reassembled Lunik, trying to leave no trace. They put a seal on it, put a lid on the wooden crate, and moved it all back to the truck. The driver was brought back to the cockpit at 5 am, until 7 am when the guard began his morning shift, the car was waiting at the platform. He had no doubts but immediately added the inventory to his manager list, and Lunik continued his journey to the next city.

The CIA's abduction of Lunik plays a relatively important role. Knowing the dry weight and actual dimensions of the Lunik allows experts to determine the weight of the ship when it is filled with fuel. From there, the US side can calculate the true power of the rocket, estimate the potential of the Soviet Union, and more importantly, determine the explosive limit according to current technology. Abducting Lunik helped the United States identify what the Soviets could not do without a major technological breakthrough. This is useful information for the leaders of the United States, the heads of NASA to set reasonable goals and schedules, in order to catch up and eventually surpass the Soviet Union in the field of space.