[FPSPACE] The Big Bird that is not in the Smithsonian
zirconic1 at earthlink.net
Mon Nov 8 22:32:37 EST 2004
The invisible Big Bird: why there is no KH-9 spy satellite in the Smithsonian
by Dwayne A. Day
Monday, November 8, 2004
Last week, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum officially opened its James S. McDonnell Space Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, near Dulles Airport. The hangar is filled with numerous space objects, the most notable being the Space Shuttle Enterprise. There is one object that was supposed to be there but is not: a schoolbus-sized KH-9 HEXAGON spy satellite, developed by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), whose headquarters is only a few miles down the street from the museum annex.
Many years ago, when the Smithsonian was still trying to raise money for what was then called the Dulles Annex, they produced a plastic model of what the facility would eventually look like. Small clear plastic markers were cut in the shape of aircraft, spacecraft, and other artifacts and placed inside the model. Off in one corner of the Space Hangar was a little blue object shaped like the Hubble Space Telescope and labeled KH-9. That model was occasionally displayed to the public at special events and was usually on display on the downtown museums third floor, where the offices are. A map of the Dulles Annex exhibits was also published in Air & Space Magazine, and it too had the KH-9 off in the corner. So now that the space hangar is finally open, some people may wonder why there is no KH-9 to be seen anywhere in the facility.
At one time, NRO and Smithsonian officials enthusiastically discussed donating a KH-9 satellite to the museum. One of the venerable spy satellitesprobably a flight qualification model never intended for flightcurrently sits in a classified warehouse. It is one of the most sophisticated and successful spycraft ever built. However, changing attitudes in the intelligence community have put the plans on indefinite hold, and a technological wonder that some senior intelligence officials once planned to unveil seven years ago remains classified and unseen.
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