Main Engine Cut Off

Apollo, GAMBIT, and UPWARD

If you’re into quirky space history, Dwayne Day wrote an incredible article for The Space Review this week on a NASA/NRO collaboration that never saw the light of day, nor was known about until now:

Lunar Orbiter, which began in 1962, benefitted from access to classified spy satellite technology as a result of an agreement between NASA and the NRO. But in 2010 the government revealed that NASA and the NRO had a second agreement to cooperate on a backup plan to Lunar Orbiter to provide the data necessary for conducting lunar landings, and actually started construction of hardware. Unlike Lunar Orbiter, this hardware would be operated by Apollo astronauts in lunar orbit.

The backup project was known as the Lunar Mapping and Survey System, or LM&SS (often without the ampersand, and sometimes also known as the Apollo Mapping and Survey System). NASA and the National Reconnaissance Office signed an agreement on LMSS in April 1964, when Lunar Orbiter was still in its infancy. In May 1964 NASA transferred $800,000 to the Department of Defense to cover contractor studies regarding which existing NRO camera systems might be useful for Apollo. The people studying the problem quickly decided upon the GAMBIT-1 reconnaissance camera, which had first entered service in summer 1963 achieving high-resolution from low Earth orbit. GAMBIT-1 also had the designation KH-7. At the Moon, the camera could be used at 30 nautical miles (56 kilometers) altitude to provide high-resolution images of the ground, or from 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) altitude to provide broader area coverage. The new program was given the classified code name UPWARD, which never appeared in NASA documents.