Ronald J. Ondrejka


The Role of the First Spy Satellites
29 minutes, 13.5mb, recorded 2005-06-30
Topics: Politics
Ronald Ondrejka
In an engaging recollection at the close of the Where 2.0 conference, Ron Ondrejka lifts the curtain on his super secret activities in satellite photoreconnaissance between 1960 and 1983 that ultimately led to major diplomatic breakthroughs between the US and USSR.

As the program photogrammetrist, Ron Ondrejka made a substantial contribution to the development of the first US spy satellites. With the Cold War at its height, Ron describes the near panic that drove the spy satellite program. In February 1960, the CIA predicted that the Soviets would be able to launch 140 to 200 ICBMs by mid-1961. When Gary Powers' U-2 plane was then shot down over the USSR in May 1960, it caused an international incident and ended the only photoreconnaissance spy program that had been available. Ron describes the Cold War ingenuity that followed and resulted in the launch the first US photo-optical spy satellite, CORONA, in August of that same year.

Ron continued his career by working on subsequent generations of satellite reconnaissance programs, including the celebrated KH-9 "Big Bird" satellite, which still remains classified. By uncovering Cold War technologies from a time when computers were not widely used, he provides a perspective on secret activities that have great historical significance.

Ronald Ondrejka was raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and attended the University of Wisconsin. He joined Itek in 1960 after studying Civil Engineering at UW and Photogrammetric Engineering at ITC in the Netherlands. In 1964 he assumed management of Itek's Photogrammetry Department and became project photogrammetrist for the camera payloads on the CORONA, LANYARD, and KH-9 Mapping Camera programs. Ron had similar responsibilities for NASA camera systems on Apollo, Skylab, and the Space Shuttle.

As a private consultant for the past 20 years, Ron has advised and field tested airborne sensors for special projects of the USDA Forest Service, served on the Board of Directors of GEONEX, performed overseas project evaluations for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and served on the Advisory Council for the Boston University Center for Remote Sensing. Ron is an elected Fellow and Emeritus member of the American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS).


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