In an earlier post (click here) by my former co-blogger, Pauline Wilson, she raised the possibility that the Westall incident of 1966 could have had something to do with the then very secret US Government spy satellite program named "Corona." For an excellent US Government document which provides full details of the Corona program click here. After doing her research she concluded that the Westall incident did not involve a Corona photographic capsule falling to earth where it should not have. At the time of her post back in Jan 2012 I had not come across any Australian Government files in the National Archives of Australia (NAA) which even remotely suggested any Australian knowledge of this spy satellite program. Recently, thanks to the outstanding efforts of Paul Dean, a researcher from Melbourne we may just have found a hint.
One of the files which caught Paul's eye in the NAA's RecordSearch was file series A432, control symbol 69/3298, barcode 6971481 held by the NAA's Canberra office. The title was "US Emergency Flights Relating to the Recovery of Space Capsules." The file originated with the Attorney General's Department.
In 1968 (the Corona program ran up till 1972,) The US Government requested approval from the Australian Government for "Short term notice clearance for USAF aircraft to stage search and recovery operations for unmanned space capsules..." (Department of Supply memo dated 3 Jun 1969.)
What were these capsules? On 1 Apr 1969 the US Embassy in Canberra wrote to the Australian Department of External Affairs responding to a series of questions asked by the Australian Department of Defence, about these "capsules."
"The recoverable capsules vary in shape, size and weight. Typically they are conical in shape, measure approximately 36 by 30 inches, and weight several hundred pounds."
Note No. 315 from the US Embassy, dated 14 Oct 1968 added further information:
"The capsules will contain valuable (and in the case of the Department of Defence capsules , highly classified scientific experimental equipment.) Preparation has been made for their aerial recovery by specially equipped C-130 aircraft. Normally such recovery is to be made in the vicinity of Hawaii..However, due to malfunction the capsule may not land as planned ...a logical zone to attempt such recovery is the general area around and including Australia and New Zealand."
My reading of the documents on the file, together with the US document at click here, suggest to me that some of the "capsules" to be air recovered as they drifted down under a parachute, near Hawaii, could well have been Corona photographic capsules.
In the end, it didn't matter, as the US withdrew its request for emergency flights relating to such capsules.