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Discoverer XIV


The Discoverer XIV is the first satellite to be ejected from an orbiting space vehicle and to be recovered in midair. Discoverer XIV was launched into a polar (north-south) orbit by a Thor booster from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on Aug. 18, 1960. After the Thor exhausted its fuel, the Agena A vehicle atop the Thor separated from it. The Agena's engine then ignited, increasing the satellite's top speed to 17,658 mph, thereby achieving an orbit of 116 miles above the earth at the low point (perigee) and 502 miles at the high point (apogee).

Over Alaska on the 17th pass around the earth, the Agena ejected Discoverer XIV from its nose and retrorockets attached to the re-entry vehicle fired to slow it for the return from orbit. After Discoverer XIV reentered the atmosphere, it released a parachute and floated earthward. The descending parachute was sighted 360 miles southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii, by the crew of a USAF C-119 recovery aircraft from the 6593rd Test Squadron based at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. On the C-119's third pass over the parachute, the recovery gear trailing behind the aircraft successfully snagged the parachute canopy. A winch operator aboard the C-119 then reeled in the Discoverer XIV after its 27-hour 450,000-mile journey through space.

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