Using film from U.S. spy balloons to take pictures of the Moon

Article from the newspaper "St. Petersburg Vedomosti" of April 10, 1993. by Igor Borisovich Lisochkin.
Russian text excerpts provided by Alexander Dzhuly


A year ago, fate confronted me with one of the founders of "space television, laureate of the Lenin and State Prizes Peter Fedorovich BRATSLAVETS (1 ) [see picture on the right]. The conversation was quite broad on the topic, but in it Pyotr Fedorovich unexpectedly endowed me with a story that, after laughing a lot, I defined it as "AMERICAN BALLOONS".On the eve of the present Day of Cosmonautics, I decided to return to this story, and we met at my request again. There were questions, there were answers. In this conversation, the "balloonss" that interested me somehow moved aside, because I happened to hear many interesting things. [Here follow extracts from the article]:

Doubts about film type

"LET'S DO IT ... And I had big doubts about the photographic film that we used - "Type 17" (manufactured by Shostka). For aerial photography it was quite suitable, but for the cosmos a much greater sensitivity was required. I was also afraid that the film would be strongly veiled due to cosmic radiation. What to do? Again bow to NIKFI [Cinema and Photo Research Institute, Moscow], with which we are so steeply separated? Impossible. And time is running out. And then a completely crazy thought occurred to me ...

Our anti-aircraft gunners shot down these reconnaissance balls in batches. Samples were transferred to Mozhayka, with whom I maintained close business relations. The photographic equipment used on the balls was of no interest, but the film, created for shooting from high altitudes, was good: highly sensitive and strongly tanned, with a solution temperature of up to 50 degrees. Just what we need ... And we had it, as they say, buried ... This film I decided to use in the "Yenisei". Why the thought of "crazy"? Because in space, as in the "defense", at that time nothing was allowed foreign. Literally everything - materials, instruments, technologies - had to be only domestic. It was part of the flesh and blood, into the minds of the developers, becoming their ideology. If I had only hinted at someone about the possibility of using an American film, I would be mistaken for a foolish joker or even for a person who was not completely normal. Only two people knew about this venture - me and Volodya Kondratyev, who was engaged in the chemical processes of the Yenisei. We cut an American 180-millimeter film by 35 millimeters, then punched it. We wrote "technical conditions of the film type AB-1 ", which after havingh been shown to the military representatives was filed in the appropriate folder with the stamp "top secret". Of course, both were silent. What would become of us if this story was revealed, I can not say. In any case, not only in cosmonautics, but in general, I think we would not have worked for a long time ... "

Last-minute modifications at the launch site!

"According to the official version it is believed that I "replaced the motor", but this is not so. I replaced THE ENTIRE CAMERA, changing the name plates with the numbers, - from testing to standby. And he did not say anything to anyone. A terrible violation. But, as a designer, I knew that "replacing the motor" would lead to a complete breakdown of the test schedule, and then - and start-up. The night was spent with trials. In the morning I sit on a stool near the hotel, I smoke. Suddenly I find out: Sergei Pavlovich hurried to Moscow. Academicians from the Astrosovet by phone told him that the shutter speeds for shooting (1/200, 1/400, 1/600 and 1/800) were not given out correctly, they should be increased tenfold. Oh my God! I understand: where do academicians know about the film "type AB", they are judged by "type 17". In the afternoon, a team of mechanics arrives to reconfigure the exposures. I absolutely forbid her work. I get an order from Korolev to fly to Moscow. I do not. At night I climb up to the roof of the MIK and shoot the moon, shining in the sky. We show the film - the exposure is correct. This is reported to Korolev, he returns to the training ground the same night. In the morning I meet him. He asks: "What, Pyotr Fedorovich? .." - Then I burst out: "I will not tell you anything! Collect the Council! "They gathered. I throw a pack of prints on the table: "Look ...". "

"And about the fact that we photographed the opposite side of the Moon with the American film, which was sent to our country with purely spying aims, I even told my closest associates only many years later, long after the untimely death of Sergei Pavlovich Korolev. In fifteen years. The abbreviation "?B", I think, and it is not necessary to decipher. Of course, this is the "American Balloons". Odessites never lost their sense of humor. "



  1. Peter Bratslavets was (1925-1999), born in Odessa. Like most members of his generation, fought in WWII. For participation in hostilities he was awarded medals "For the Defense of the Caucasus" and "For Victory over Germany". He was discharged from the Army in 1948. He came to work at the Leningrad Research Institute-380 (now the Research Institute for TV). He worked on many space television system but is perhaps most known for leading the design of the "Yenisei" camera system on Luna-3.

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