NASA’s LOST BOILERPLATE

Summer 1970, while the United States icebreaker Southwind was cruising in the Arctic Ocean. In a rare thawing of cold war relations, the ship made a courtesy visit to the Russian port of Murmansk. What followed was bizarre.

Three US diplomats attended to for an official formal ceremony. Then all of a sudden the Russians handed over some American property. A conical object was hoisted onboard the Southwind. Here, in the far north of Russia, was an Apollo Command Module with a NASA logo clearly painted on the side.

The capsule was a dummy—a boilerplate. The recovery operations watched by millions of TV viewers at the end of each Apollo mission were carefully planned, and naval units around the world practiced recovering Apollo capsules, just in case one ever splashed down in their area. This capsule had gone missing during one of these training exercises.

The Soviet Union’s official story was that a trawler had found it bobbing around in the Bay of Biscay. Whether it was obtained by accident or by stealth, the Soviet Union held on to the capsule for at least six months. During this time, it was almost certainly examined by engineers from the Soviet space program. However, it is doubtful whether they gained any useful information. It had been made of basic sheet metal by a company in Texas for a cost of less than $15,000.

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