For the design, development, and operation of Corona, the first space-based Earth observation system.
Minoru S. "Sam" Araki was the Lockheed lead engineer for the new gyro-stabilized spacecraft. From Earth orbit, the craft had to serve as a stable platform for camera operation and position itself for recovery of the film capsule (see below). It used a three-gyro guidance and control system with correction inputs from horizon sensors that enabled precise, cold-gas valve firings for stabilization on three axes. Gyros and cold-gas thrusters like Corona's are still the standard for space systems today.
Araki continued his work supporting Lockheed Missiles and Space Company and Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space for 38 years, retiring in 1997 as the President of Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space Company. He is a Fellow of the American Astronautical Society and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. In 2004, he received the von Braun Award for Excellence in Space Program Management from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He also was named a Pioneer of National Reconnaissance by the National Reconnaissance Office.
Francis J. Madden was the chief engineer of Itek Optical System's camera design group. His team developed a panoramic camera that doubled the previous best focal length and improved resolution. The camera had an elaborate film path to handle the film as it traveled from the supply spool through the exposure frame, paused for exposure, and resumed transport to a spool — all at 18 inches/second. Ground control operated the camera remotely.
Madden continued to serve as Chief Engineer on Itek Corporation’s Corona camera program until his retirement in 1975. During that time, he also collaborated with Boston University’s Physical Research Laboratory. In 1995, he was recognized for his work on Corona by the Director of Central Intelligence, and in 2000 was named a Pioneer of National Reconnaissance by the National Reconnaissance Office.
Don H. Schoessler was lead engineer of the Kodak film design and production team. The newly invented thin-based, polyester film had to endure the harsh space environment, withstand temperature variations of 800 degrees Fahrenheit, and survive atmospheric radiance. The 2.5-mils-thick (63.5 microns) film also required strength to move rapidly through the camera.
Schoessler was instrumental in supporting design changes in the photographic films used in the Corona camera. These changes included a new aerial film that could withstand the near-vacuum like conditions of space; thinner films to increase the quantity of film that could be carried on each mission; and finer grain, higher resolution films that helped improve the quality of intelligence and mapping imagery.
At Eastman Kodak Company, Schoessler continued to support Corona, U-2, and the National Reconnaissance Office reconnaissance projects that followed for nearly 37 years, until his retirement from Kodak in 1986. In 1995 he was honored by the Director of Central Intelligence as a Corona Pioneer.
Edward A. Miller of General Electric Co. was the lead developer of the satellite recovery vehicle — the first man-made object to return from Earth orbit. The design had to withstand many known and unknown difficulties: hostile loads during launch, acoustic noise during exit from the atmosphere, vacuum and low temperatures in orbit, and high temperatures and vibrations during re-entry. Above all, the re-entry vehicle had to overcome these technical hurdles well enough to protect the precious film canister it carried. The vehicle's final feat was to deploy its parachutes, jettison the heat shield, and transmit its location so that an aircraft could snatch it in midair and bring it safely to Earth.
After his work on Corona, Miller continued his development of space-based camera systems. As a leader of Itek Corporation's Viking Lander Program, he helped obtain the first imagery transmitted from the surface of Mars in 1974. And as Assistant Secretary of the Army from 1975 through 1977, he led a multi-faceted R&D program that resulted in such advanced weapons systems as the Apache and Blackhawk helicopters, the Abrams M1 Tank, and the Patriot High Altitude Air Defense System.
Miller received the Army Distinguished Civilian Service Decoration and was recognized as an Eminent Engineer by the National Engineering Honor Society (Tau Beta Pi) in 1976. He was named a Pioneer of Space Technology in 1985 and was honored by the Director of Central Intelligence for his role as a Corona Pioneer in 1995.
James W. Plummer was the Corona Program Manager at Lockheed and the leader of the engineering effort and its management process. The Corona project represented a heroic achievement that was executed within 16 months, with great national urgency, and in extreme secrecy, by a multidisciplinary, multiorganizational engineering team.
Plummer has served as Under Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, Director of the National Reconnaissance Office, Vice President of Lockheed Corporation, and as Chairman of The Aerospace Corporation. He was designated as a Space and Missile Pioneer by the U.S. Air Force in 1989 and was honored by the Director of Central Intelligence as a Corona Pioneer in 1995. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Corona was the codename for the first space-based Earth observation system – a system of spy satellites run by the C.I.A. and U.S. Air Force from 1959 through 1972. Intended to replace the more vulnerable spy planes in use then, it photographed much of the surface of the planet but concentrated on the Soviet Union and China. During its 13 years in service, it revealed the locations of most of those nations’ nuclear and conventional forces. Because digital photography didn’t yet exist, the Corona satellites relied on an ingenious system of film canisters that would be dropped from space and caught mid-air by specially outfitted airplanes. Although this arrangement became obsolete in the digital age, other systems developed for Corona – for instance, ways of stabilizing the craft and its cameras to produce clear images as it moved – are now integral parts of most modern Earth-imaging satellites, both military and commercial.