Photo: Fred Marra, left, listens as Bob Zarba describes the camera operation of the Hexagon KH-9 secret spy satellite in Danbury, Conn. They have been meeting here for 18 years, whiling away a few hours nattering about golf and politics, ailments and grandchildren. But, until recently, they were forbidden to speak about the greatest achievement of their professional lives. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
You've seen groups like them a hundred times: old guys huddled around the table at Burger King, nursing coffee and talking to each other in hushed tones. Maybe they quieted down when you sat down in the next booth.
Were they yakking about politics, or about how badly the local high school football team played last night? Maybe. Or maybe they're remembering all those secret spy satellites they built back in the '70s?
Associated Press reporter Helen O'Neill found a group of men who did the latter. After more than three decades, they told her about their formerly-classified work. O'Neill writes:
It was dubbed "Big Bird" and it was considered the most successful space spy satellite program of the Cold War era. From 1971 to 1986 a total of 20 satellites were launched, each containing 60 miles of film and sophisticated cameras that orbited the earth snapping vast, panoramic photographs of the Soviet Union, China and other potential foes. The film was shot back through the earth's atmosphere in buckets that parachuted over the Pacific Ocean, where C-130 Air Force planes snagged them with grappling hooks.
The scale, ambition and sheer ingenuity of Hexagon KH-9 was breathtaking. The fact that 19 out of 20 launches were successful (the final mission blew up because the booster rockets failed) is astonishing.
So too is the human tale of the 45-year-old secret that many took to their graves.The writing in this piece is strong, although there are some spots where it could have been better (I'll share my opinions in class; you can do so as well, or post them here). I'd also like you to consider these questions: What makes this story newsworthy? If you were looking for a story like this, where would you go? O'Neill includes some detailed descriptions - what do they add to the story? Which ones did you like the most, and why?