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Declassified! 1972 Spy Satellite Capsule's Deep-Sea Rescue (Photos)

Raise the HEXAGON

NRO

In 1972, a top secret U.S. spy satellite capsule sank to the ocean floor. Here's how it was rescued. This National Reconnaissance Office released graphic depicts the huge HEXAGON spy satellite, a Cold War era surveillance craft that flew reconnaissance missions from 1971 to 1986. The bus-size satellites weighed 30,000 pounds and were 60 feet long.

Liftoff for HEXAGON

NRO

A Titan 3D rocket equipped with five-segment solid rocket boosters launches the spy satellite Hexagon Mission 1215 on March 16, 1979 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in this National Reconnaissance Office image.

HEXAGON Spysat Field of View

NRO

This image taken from a now-declassified NRO document illustrates the field of view of the HEXAGON spy satellites that flew on 20 missions between 1971 and 1986.

HEXAGON Spysat Flight Profile

NRO

HEXAGON satellites, like other U.S. spysats at the time, snapped pictures of targets on Earth and then sent them down using recoverable capsules. The flight profile is seen here in this declassified NRO image.

The HEXAGON Capsule

CIA

This image shows a look at the HEXAGON spy satellite recovery capsule used to send film back to Earth for analysis.

Parachute Failure

CIA

According to the declassified CIA document, "On 10 July 1971, the third HEXAGON RV [Recovery Vehicle] was lost. The parachute failed to reef before fully deploying, and it was snapped off at the swivel. The RV entered ballistically and impacted the water with a force of approximately 2,600 g's and settled in 16,000 feet of water."

Damaged HEXAGON Film Stack on Ocean Floor

CIA

The damaged HEXAGON spy satellite film stack sits on the ocean floor, before the 1972 U.S. recovery effort. Image released August 8, 2012.

Trieste II Bathysphere used in HEXAGON RV Recovery

CIA

The Trieste II bathysphere was used to recover the sunken HEXAGON recovery vehicle in 3 secret attempts 1971-72. Image released August 8, 2012.

Trieste II Bathysphere with Recovery Hook

CIA

The Trieste II bathysphere with recovery hook attached was used to retrieve the sunken HEXAGON recovery vehicle in 3 secret attempts 1971-72. Image released August 8, 2012.

Recovery Hook

CIA

A closeup of the recovery hook used in attempts to retrieve the HEXAGON recovery vehicle in 1971-1972.

Trieste II Bathysphere Detail

CIA

A detailed look at the Trieste II bathysphere is seen here. The craft was used to recover the sunken HEXAGON recovery vehicle in 3 secret attempts during 1971-72.

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