Mid-Air Recovery of a Satellite Capsule
On August 18, 1960, a U.S. Air
Force plane recovered the Discoverer XIV capsule
in midair over the Pacific Ocean; it was the
first time any airplane had ever recovered a
satellite data capsule in flight.
Discoverer 14 was the first successful low
resolution photo surveillance spacecraft launched
by the US Air Force. It was launched into a polar
orbit by a Thor booster from Vandenberg AFB.
After the Thor exhausted its fuel, the Agena A
vehicle atop the Thor separated from it. The
Agena's main engine then ignited, increasing the
satellite's top speed to 17,658 mph, thereby
achieving an orbit of 116 miles above the earth
at the low point and 502 miles at the high point.
Over Alaska on the 17th pass around the earth,
the Agena ejected Discoverer 14 from its nose and
retrorockets attached to the reentry vehicle
fired to slow it for the return from orbit. After
Discoverer 14 reentered the atmosphere, it
released a parachute and floated earthward. The
descending parachute was sighted 360 miles
southeast of Honolulu, Hawaii, by the crew of a
US Air Force C-119 recovery aircraft from the
6593rd Test Squardon based at Hickam AFB, Hawaii.
On the C-119's third pass over the parachute, the
recovery gear trailing behind the aircraft
successfully snagged the parachute canopy. A
winch operator aboard the C-119 then reeled in
the Discoverer after its 27-hour, 450,000 mile
journey through space. This was the first
successful recovery of film from an orbiting
satellite and the first aerial recovery of an
object returning from Earth orbit.
[taken directly from National Space Science Data
Center website: http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraftDisplay.do?id=1960-010A]
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