Over 60 years ago, the CIA stole a Soviet space probe

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In 1959, in the midst of the Cold War, the CIA hired a spy for an important mission in Mexico. It did not have the hoped-for end and the consequences could have been very heavy for the whole world.

A very perilous mission

It is certain that we will never know all the details of all the events of the Cold War (1947-1991). Pitting the western bloc against the eastern bloc, it was not really an armed conflict, but a period of strong geopolitical tensions having led to an arms race and space conquest. In a publication of January 28, 2021, the MIT Technology Review told a surprising story, worthy of a James Bond movie.

The affair began in October 1959, in Mexico City (Mexico), where the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) recruited Eduardo Diaz Silveti. This spy has a crucial mission for the United States, but also very risky. According to Winston Scott, the secret agent having detailed the objectives of the mission to the spy, any failure would have been synonymous with World War III.

The purpose of the mission is none other than to steal the Soviet space probe Luna 3 (or Lunik 3). She had just brought back the first images of the far side of the moon. However, for several months, the Corona program of NASA had a series of failures in sending spy satellites. For Winston Scott, Luna 3 represented the key to the Soviets’ success in the space.

Model of the Luna 3 probe (scale 1: 1) at the Memorial Museum of Astronautics in Moscow.
Credits: Armael / Wikipedia

A lot of risk for not much

On November 21, 1959, the Soviets were to present their latest innovations and in particular, the Luna 3 probe during an exposure. The spy Eduardo Diaz thought he could steal the device when it disembarked at the port. Finally, he devised a whole different plan: to distract the Soviets with prostitutes in their hotel rooms while his team hijack the truck carrying Luna 3 after the exhibition. The goal was to steal the probe before taking it apart and taking a picture and finally, return it to the Soviets without their knowledge.

On the fateful day, everything goes pretty much as planned. The Soviets drunk and busy at their hotel are unaware that a Mexican agent replaces the driver of the truck carrying the probe. At 5.30 p.m., the device was in the hands of the spy and his team. In a hangar outside Mexico City, CIA engineers have seven hours to bone Luna 3. They take 280 photos and take 60 liquid samples and fuel. At 7 am, the truck containing the satellite is on time at the station to leave.

However, Eduardo Diaz and his team did not really fly the Luna 3 satellite. Indeed, the latter was in Earth orbit at a distance of 500,000 km ! In fact, Luna 3 was launched on October 4, 1959, a month before the CIA operation, and the Soviets lost contact on October 22. The device disintegrated in the Earth’s atmosphere probably around March 1960. In reality, the CIA took all these risks to finally steal a completely different device. It was probably from Luna 2, another probe having never succeeded a single launch.

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