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An Underwater Ice Station Zebra: Recovering a Secret Spy Satellite Capsule from 16,400 feet Below the Pacific Ocean

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The Trieste II Deep Sea Vehicle I (DSV-1), the U.S. Navy's most advanced deep sea submersible at the time, surfaced about 350 miles north of the Hawaiian Islands in the pre-dawn hours of 26 April 1972 after having salvaged a mysterious item from 16,400 feet below the Pacific Ocean. Publicly known as a nondescript "data package" from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the object was actually part of a film capsule from an American photoreconnaissance satellite, codenamed HEXAGON. Before today's digital technology, photoreconnaissance satellites used film, which capsules ejected from the satellite returned to Earth. The capsules, called "buckets," reentered the Earth's atmosphere and deployed a parachute as they descended toward the primary reentry zone near the Hawaiian Islands. In the case of the first HEXAGON mission in the summer of 1971, the parachute broke off causing the bucket to crash into the ocean, sinking on impact. This release of CIA material includes photos of the capsule on the ocean floor, pictures of the Trieste II (DSV-1), documents, and an article explaining how the CIA and U.S. Navy undertook the deepest undersea salvage then attempted. We have also provided a link to the U.S. Naval Undersea Museum, where the Trieste II (DSV-1) is on permanent display.

View the OPA Press Release and Collection Booklet

View the Naval Undersea Museum website [external link disclaimer]

Download photos from the CIA Flickr stream [external link disclaimer]

View National Reconnaissance documents [external link disclaimer]

View Interview with CIA about Secret Sub Mission in 1972 [external link disclaimer]

CIA’s Underwater Space Mission Revealed: Recovering A Secret Spy Satellite Capsule From 16,400 Feet Below The Pacific Ocean

     Presented at The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center

Purchase the booklet from GPO  [external link disclaimer]

Document List (PDF Format)


1971-07-10 - Cable 2969
1971-07-11 - Cable 2972
1971-07-11a - Cable 2987
1971-07-12 - Cable 1311
1971-07-27 - Cable 3260
1971-07-28 - RV-3 Recovery Planning Meeting
1971-08-04 - Cable 9097 Recovery of RV-3
1971-08-05 - Effect of Salt Water on Beryllium
1971-08-05a - Penetration of the RV into the Ocean Bottom
1971-08-10 - Deep Sea Recovery of Hexagon Reentry Vehicle
1971-08-13 - Cable 1527 RV-3 Impact Point
1971-08-18 - Deep Sea Recovery of Hexagon Reentry Vehicle
1971-08-23 - Cable 4960
1971-09-01 - Perkin-Elmer Proposal for Recovery of RV3 of SV-1
1971-09-08 - Cable 8164
1971-09-13 - Cable 3709
1971-09-14 - Status of Recovery Effort as of 14Sep71
1971-09-16 - Cable 2150
1971-09-17 - Cable 1223
1971-10-07 - Cable 2266
1971-10-28 - Cable 5446
1971-10-28a - Cable 2338
1971-11-18 - Cable 26767
1971-12-10 - 1201 RV-3 Recovery
1972-01-12 - Notes on Conversation of 11 Jan 72
1972-01-13 - Cable 8209
1972-01-31 - Trip Report Recovery of RV3
1972-02-02 - Prognosis for RV-3 Recovery Operations
1972-02-03 - Prognosis for RV-3 Recovery Operations
1972-02-14 - Status of RV-3 Recovery Operations
1972-03-15 - Recovery Operations RV-3 of SV-1
1972-03-29 - Recovery Operations RV-3 of SV-1
1972-04-20 - Cable 2193
1972-04-27 - Cable 1097
1972-05-02 - Cable 3009
1972-05-24 - Deep Sea Recovery of Hexagon Recovery Vehicle 1201-3 With Four Attachments
1972-07-28 - Report on the Analyses of Recovered 1201-3 Film Samples