These seven vintage postage stamps are gathered from several countries, each celebrating the paradigm-shifting launch of the Luna orbiters from the Soviet Union in 1959.
The Luna orbiters were of great interest to the US as the Soviets claimed an early lead in the space race, beginning with the launch of the original Sputnik 1 satellite in October 1957.
When the Soviet government sent out a Luna 3 space delivery vehicle on a worldwide tour to celebrate their technological prowess in 1959, the CIA wanted to learn anything they could. The upper stage of the Luna 3’s vehicle was shipped all over the world for months. CIA personnel in Paris were able to get access to the display overnight, thinking it was a mockup. They were shocked to find that an actual delivery vehicle had left the USSR and was on tour. A plan to hijack it for careful study was immediately formulated.
When the vehicle later made its way to Mexico City, the CIA was ready. Working with members of a Mexican intelligence agency, they arranged for the truck carrying the vehicle to be the last one to depart the shipping yard in the evening, after the exhibit closed. The Soviet handler who checked that the truck departed had no way to communicate with the handler receiving it at the rail yard. The driver had already been coopted and turned the vehicle over to the CIA soon after leaving, in a lumberyard owned by the brother-in-law of one of the Mexican agents.
The CIA now had unfettered access to the delivery vehicle. A team opened the crate, photographing the interior. They also took swabs of propellant residue, and broke an anti-tamper seal inside for better access, replacing it with a copy that Mexico City Station had made for the occasion. All the while, plainclothes CIA personnel kept surveillance in case the Soviets realized something was amiss.
The next day the vehicle was delivered to the rail yard, with the Soviets none the wiser. The heist went undiscovered until the CIA declassified the operation in 1995.
Included in this collection are the following:
Poland - 1962 60-grosz stamp featuring the Luna 2 orbiter