Technology Related to Hexagon at Perkin-Elmer

During the development and design of the Hexagon spy satellite system starting in 1966, with the first launch 5 years later in June 1971 and continuing on we at Perkin-Elmer did not have the following technologies until much later in the program and yet we achieved great success on the most complicated satellite of its day and perhaps still today.

  • NO CAD





  • NO DIGITAL PRINTERS (tracing paper drawings were converted to blueprints using large ammonia machines)

The tools we used were:

  • The Abacus (not really)

  • The slide rule

  • eventually the pocket calculator

  • eventually much more sophisticated computers programs

None the less our talented staff proudly developed the following new technologies that are in use today:

  • optical encoders

  • brushless DC motors

  • light pipes

  • complicated film handling mechanisms to move film at high speeds both linearly and in rotation

  • closed loop phase-lock servos

  • Kodak developed hi-resolution films both black and white and color

The incredible success we achieved really did provide so much intelligence for United States agencies and the military that enabled our government to make decisions that not only protected our security but helped keep peace in the world between 1971 and 1986, during the “cold war.”

 Credit must be given to over 1000 Perkin-Elmer employees   and of course to associated contractors, government agencies and Air Force and Navy personnel. In all of my work experience through retirement I have never worked with such a wonderful collection of smart and extremely competent people.

 They belonged to all of the following departments:

o  Systems engineering

o  Mechanical engineering

o  Electrical engineering

o  Design and drafting

o  Manufacturing

o  Optics

o  Testing

o  Quality assurance

o  Reliability

o  Technical documentation

o  Research

o  Program management

o  Sales and contracts

o  Upper management and technical staff

o  Administration and secretariat

o  Security

o  Machine shop

o  Building and facility staff

o  West coast field office

 I thank them all for their significant contributions and each time that I speak about Hexagon I honor them and Perkin-Elmer.

Phil Pressel

Big Wave versus the Hexagon vehicle photographs?

Which is the better picture? The photo of a huge 50 foot wave taken at the LaJolla cove with seals ashore taken by my wife Pat or the photo of me in front of the Hexagon vehicle in Dayton taken by Jon Aspinwall. Of course we know that the Hexagon itself took great photographs. I vote for the big wave as my favorite.

Big Wave in La Jolla.jpg
vehicle and me.jpg

Which photo do you like best? Let me know at

If you have any Hexagon related photos or stories please send them to me.

Fiftieth Anniversary of the July 20, 1969 Moon Landing

I found this interesting article about the moon landing that I had not heard about. It is not related to Hexagon but is interesting by itself and also that there was some work done at Perkin-Elmer related to the moon landing (not sure which program).

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were lost on the Moon. Really



•   06.22.19

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were lost on the Moon. Really

Neither NASA nor the Apollo 11 astronauts knew exactly where they were when they landed on the Moon. Yet it didn’t impede the mission.


[Photos: Joel Kowsky/NASA; Pavlo Stavnichuk/iStock; 1697726/Pixabay]




Once Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed Eagle on the Moon, the Apollo 11 astronauts and their spaceship were actually lost.

Oh, Mission Control never lost radio contact with them. But NASA was never able to figure out where, exactly, on the Moon they had set down, while they were on the Moon. And NASA sure did try.

The landing area on the Moon that had been picked out for Apollo 11 was about the length of Manhattan and twice as wide. In photo surveys, it looked plain, flat, and bland—not interesting for geologists but a safe place to land a spaceship, the first time human beings ever tried that on a place off of Earth.

But up close, the Sea of Tranquility was anything but tranquil. As Armstrong and Aldrin flew down toward the Moon in their lunar module, Armstrong was looking out the window and the spot the autopilot was flying them toward was, as Armstrong described it, a crater the size of a football field, littered with boulders, some as large as cars.


Not a comfortable place to try to land a gangly four-legged spaceship.

So Armstrong took manual control of where the lunar module was flying to—the spaceship computer still did all the actual flying, but Armstrong was instructing it where to go and at what speed.

In the end, he and Aldrin set down several miles from the original landing spot—on safe, level Moon ground, but not where they had planned to land. Armstrong, in particular, had studied photographs of the Sea of Tranquility in preparation for flying to it and knew the landmarks and the landscape of much of the area.

Andrew Chaikin, in his account of the Moon landings, A Man On the Moon, describes Armstrong’s reaction to landing in unfamiliar Moon terrain: “As he looked out (at Tranquility Base), Armstrong wondered where he and Aldrin had landed . . . . (He) searched the horizon for some feature he might be able to identify, but found none.”

There had been some worry inside NASA about whether, from Earth, they would be able to pinpoint the lunar module’s landing location. The Moon was mapped, but not in anything like fine, up-close detail; there were no constellations of tracking satellites around the Moon in 1969. “With a wry smile, (Armstrong) radioed Houston, ‘The guys who said we wouldn’t know where we were are the winners today.’ ”

In the 22½ hours Armstrong and Aldrin were on the Moon in Eagle, NASA never found them. Their crewmate, Michael Collins, was overhead, orbiting the Moon in the command module Columbia. The command module had a telescope as part of its navigation instruments, and Mission Control asked Collins to search for the lunar module—and his crewmates—every time he flew over.

It was a bit of a wild request, even with a telescope: Collins was orbiting at 69 miles, looking down on a space bigger than Manhattan, trying to find a spaceship that, looking down from above, was just 31 feet across, with himself traveling at 3,700 mph.

According to Chaikin’s account, Collins had just two minutes to search the landing area during each overflight—using coordinates radioed up from Mission Control and which he programmed into the command module’s computer for help aiming the telescope.

“Each time (Collins) went around . . . Mission Control had a new set of coordinates for him to try.” But those search areas were often far off from each other, lending the effort a haphazard air. “It didn’t take Collins long to realize that no one had a handle on the problem. His search continued fruitlessly for the rest of his 22 solo hours.”

Among the tools that proved in vain: Armstrong and Aldrin actually carried with them, in their lunar module cabin, 95 detailed paper photo-maps of the landing area, but as they looked out from the windows of the lunar module cabin, and then walked around, they were unable to connect any of the nearby features they could see with the features on those maps.

One reason to know where you were on the Moon was to make navigating back to orbit–and the flight home–safer and easier. But even without those coordinates, on blastoff, the radar and computers in the lunar module and the command module had no trouble finding each other and guiding Armstrong and Aldrin back to rendezvous with Collins.

NASA was later able to figure out where Armstrong and Aldrin had been, and the Apollo 11 landing site at Tranquility Base has been photographed by orbiting Moon probes, including the bottom stage of the lunar module, along with the sites of the other five Moon landing bases.

The fact that no one actually knew, at the time, where Eagle had landed is a mostly overlooked fact of that first Moon landing, but it did make news at the time. “The Apollo 11 astronauts took off from the Moon today still uncertain of exactly where they had been,” opened the story in the New York Times. Still, the Times reassured readers, “It was abundantly clear that they had been on the surface of the Moon.”




Size of three spy satellites

As a comparison the illustration below shows the relative size difference between the three primary spy satellites that orbited the earth during the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. Even today the US intelligence agencies miss the global mapping capability that Hexagon provided. On the other hand some Hexagon imagery is still being used to determine the amount of global ice melting from those days compared to today and they have found that a huge amount of melting has occurred as a result of global climate change. See

Size of 3 spy satellites.jpg

Hexagon KH-9 Development Model on display at Dayton, Ohio Air Force Museum

I highly recommend a trip to Dayton, Ohio to visit the Wright Patterson United States Air Force Museum to see their incredible collection of aircraft.

It also contains the Development Model of the Hexagon spy satellite in its entirety on display. 

The museum has one of the world’s largest collections of aircraft and missiles. The collection contains many rare aircraft of historical or technological importance, and various memorabilia and artifacts from the history and development of aviation. Among them is one of four surviving Convair B-36 Peacemakers, the only surviving North American XB-70 Valkyrie and Bockscar—the Boeing B-29 Superfortress that dropped the Fat Man atomic bomb on Nagasaki during the last days of World War II.

In 2010, the museum launched its 360-degree Virtual Tour, allowing most aircraft and exhibits to be viewed online.

Presidential aircraft

The museum has several Presidential aircraft, including those used by Franklin D. RooseveltHarry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The centerpiece of the presidential aircraft collection is SAM 26000, a modified Boeing 707 known as a VC-137C, used regularly by presidents John F. KennedyLyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon. This aircraft took President and Mrs. Kennedy to Dallas on 22 November 1963—the day of the President's assassination. Vice President Johnson was sworn in as president aboard it shortly after the assassination, and the aircraft then carried Kennedy's body back to Washington.[10] It became the backup presidential aircraft after Nixon's first term.

The Hexagon vehicle is located in building 4 right next to the Presidential Air Force One planes.