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31 December 2011

NSA and the Cold War "Space Race"

To: <intelforum[at]>
Date: Fri, 30 Dec 2011 12:18:22 -0500
From: IntelForum Mailing List <intelforum[at]>
Subject: [Intelforum] New article on US Intelligence and the Cold War "Space Race"

Greetings Everyone.

A new article has recently been published by me about recent declassification disclosures about what the US Intelligence Community knew about Soviet space activities during the Cold War Space Race.

It is entitled Excavating for America s Secret Knowledge of the Soviet Space Program, and is the cover story and main feature.  It appears in the January 2012 issue of Griffith Observer, published in Los Angeles.

The article is heavily illustrated, including facsimiles of pages from declassified reports.  There are also Russian materials used as illustrations as well, with a number of the images appearing in print for the first time. 

The main subheadings of the article include:

--In the Trenches of Twentieth-century Archaeology

--Zond 5:  Stumbling Upon a Previously Undisclosed Secret

--New NSA Documents Reveal In-depth, Blanket Monitoring of Soviet Space Events from the Pad, All the Way to the Moon

--Hidden US Knowledge about the USSR s Undeclared Moon Rocket

--Towards a More-accurate Recounting

As the reader can infer, there has been a batch of materials released by the NSA.  As with the CIA materials discussed in the text as well, it took some time to extract these documents from their bureaucratic hiding places.  As in years and years. 

One of the themes of the article is the rectification of mis-told Soviet space history. (As more materials are released by such declassification authorities like ISCAP, these will become more and more capably applied to the currently accepted chronologies and it will change them.)  As I can vouch for (with additional documents that have been released in the interim, since I originally wrote this article in December 2010), the US intelligence documents that I now have in hand (as well as burgeoning number currently with ISCAP, and that I anticipate to receive over the near term, say next 24 months or so) provide data as well as a narrative that Russian official disclosures have not whether not at all (in some cases), or with few details (in more cases), or selective releases (that have the ultimate effect of misleading space historians, due to an incomplete record).  At times, the released US materials provide a narrative that directly contra-indicates what Russian disclosures have officially stated took place (or was the intent of events).

A case in point (as discussed in the Observer piece) is the fourth N-1 rocket (the USSR s Saturn V-class rocket to take cosmonauts to the Moon, for a landing) that lifted off from the Tyuratam space center in late November 1972.  We now know via NSA disclosures that it was not a mission intended to selenocentric space at all, but rather away from the Moon altogether (the NSA figured out it was very similar in profile to the Zond 4 mission, that was launched to lunar distance, but directly opposite the Moon).  Additionally, we learn from SIGINT captures that the rocket may have had its second stage ignite temporarily for approximately seven seconds, and then shut down.  Furthermore, we learn from NSA SIGINT acquisitions that, despite an explosion in the lower part of the rocket during its ascent, it continued to coast upwards to 37.7 nautical miles before falling back to the ground an excellent indication that the rocket was not blown to smithereens.  These new facts are not reflected in the current Russian space histories (published post 1990) about what is claimed to have happened during the launch failure.

What this means is that the data acquired by the US Intelligence Community was high fidelity, and that data garnered by the Americans may have been better than what the Russians acquired themselves.  Indeed, in a number of the NSA reports that I have in hand, when official Soviet government releases were in error about times or coordinates (for example, dealing with lunar missions), the NSA reports correct them.

(There are other examples of the NSA s meticulous data-keeping in the article.  What it demonstrates is that the technical means to monitor Tyuratam activity as well as beyond Earth orbit--was on-going 24/7.  This included ground-based monitoring, as well as space-based monitoring.)

More such corrective data is in hand presently from even more recent document disclosures (and some of these cover manned Soviet missions), and will appear in another article, currently under preparation.

So these are exciting times for those who engage in the (re-)writing of Cold War Space History.

For more information about issue availability and ordering, please contact the Griffith Observatory.  The URL link to their organization is

Peter Pesavento