In 1954 the U.S. Air Force launched an ambitious program known as WS-117L to develop the world s first reconnaissance satellite. The goal was to take photographic images from space and relay them back to Earth via radio. Because of technical issues and bureaucratic resistance, however, WS-117L was seriously behind schedule by the time "e;Sputnik "e;orbited Earth in 1957 and was eventually cancelled. The air force began concentrating instead on new programs that eventually launched the first successful U.S. spy satellites.
"e;Eyeing the Red Storm"e;examines the birth of space-based reconnaissance not from the perspective of CORONA (the first photo reconnaissance satellite to fly) but rather from that of the WS-117L. Robert M. Dienesch s revised assessment places WS-117L within the larger context of Dwight D. Eisenhower s presidency, focusing on the dynamic between military and civilian leadership. Dienesch demonstrates how WS-117L promised Eisenhower not merely military intelligence but also the capacity to manage national security against the Soviet threat. As a fiscal conservative, Eisenhower believed a strong economy was the key to surviving the Cold War and saw satellite reconnaissance as a means to understand the Soviet military challenge more clearly and thus keep American defense spending under control.
Although WS-117L never flew, it provided the foundation for all subsequent satellites, breaking theoretical barriers and helping to overcome major technical hurdles, which ensured the success of America s first working reconnaissance satellites and their photographic missions during the Cold War.