Only July 10, 1971, America’s newest photo reconnaissance satellite, the KH-9 Hexagon, dropped a capsule loaded with film toward the Earth. The re-entry vehicle was supposed to open its parachute; an American aircraft would snatch it out of the sky in mid-descent. But the chute was never unfurled. The re-entry vehicle hit the Pacific Ocean with a force of approximately 2,600 G’s. And then it sunk down into the deep, before settling at 16,000 feet.
Shortly thereafter, officials from the U.S. Navy and the Central Intelligence Agency decided to go after the Hexagon capsule, using America’s most advanced deep-sea exploration vehicle, the Trieste II. There were just two problems with the mission, an internal CIA memo noted: “No object of this size had been actively searched for and located by sonar.” And “the Trieste II had not gone below 10,000 feet.”
While the incident has been discussed publicly before, many details of what happened next have been locked in government archives for 40 years. On Wednesday, the CIA declassified documents and photographs showing how it went after the Hexagon capsule. Here’s what they showed.
(Above) The Hexagon capsule — known as Recovery Vehicle 1201-3 — sitting at the bottom of the Pacific.