East London Photographic Studio

We all love a good spy story. We especially love them when they are based on somewhat real events. Well, here's one which is 100% real, but at the same time very, very unbelievable. 

During the Cold War, tensions were running high all around the world and everyone wanted the upper hand. Now you have to remember this was a time before the Internet so things were a little different. Information wasn't so widespread and and "cyber hacking" was a completely foreign concept. So what do you do when you want to spy on people thousands of miles away? Well you could shoot a rocket up into space and snap some pictures from up there, right? As it turns out, yes you can. 

Hexagon in orbit

Hexagon in orbit

Even in 2015 that seems like a big task, but it's even more crazy when you consider they were doing with years before digital cameras, using film and no computers. Just think how hard film can be when using it on earth! From 1971 till 1986 the U.S. sent up 20 satellites each of them housing around 60 miles of photographic film. They would take the panoramic pictures of the Soviet Union and China before sending the film back through the earths atmosphere where they would be collected. When I say "collected" I mean more than someone drove and picked them up from the desert somewhere. They couldn't risk the classified images falling into the wrong hands, so the U.S. Air Forces caught the parachuting images in mid air. Just take a second to think just how much work all this took to work out, all by hand, with no computers. 

This whole project was classified top secret until recently, and luckily we can have a look at just what went in to making this happen. 

Images courtesy of The Atlantic/National Reconnaissance Office