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Hijacking of Soviet satellite in 1959 boosted U.S. space program

AUSTIN, Texas -- A former Mexican spy claims his intelligence unit provided the United States with information vital to the floundering American space program when it stole a Soviet satellite in 1959, a newspaper reported.

Eduardo Diaz Silveti, who is now living in Texas, told the Austin American-Statesman the theft occurred in Mexico City while the satellite was on tour.

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The satellite was reportedly the backup for Luna 3, the first satellite to photograph the far side of the moon, scientists say.

Silveti, 58, who has remained silent about the incident for 28 years, said he made information about the stolen satellite available to the CIA and military intelligence officials who had flown to Mexico City for the operation.

Federal government and NASA officials said they have no knowledge of the incident, which Silveti said he staged in December 1959. Mexican government officials also denied knowledge of the theft, the newspaper said.

The Central Intelligence Agency had no comment.

However, Jim Oberg, an engineer, author and expert on the Soviet space program, said he has heard of some aspects of the hijacking and thinks the information obtained was valuable to American officials.

'Remember that in '58 and '59 nobody knew nothing about the design, the booster, the propellants, the liquid fuels, nothing,' Oberg said. 'We had no idea even about the fundamental aspects of their program. To say that we were concerned was putting it lightly.'

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Silveti said he finally went public with the secret because 'it is time the people of the United States and Mexico realize the boost the American space program got from this hijacking.'

He agreed to meet with a reporter and share his documents in an effort to promote a book about his exploit, titled 'Hijack,' which flatteringly details the operation.

Silveti told his story to Francisco Perea, an Austin author who recently published the Spanish-language book.

According to Silveti, a tractor-trailer rig carrying the satellite to a train depot was diverted to a lumberyard owned by his brother-in-law.

'Everything that was removeable from the craft was removed,' Silveti recalled. 'Parts of motors, interior components, scraping from the rocket fins, liquids they thought might have been leftover fuel, anything and everything that was of any consequence was stripped and taken.'

All the equipment was made to fit in suitcases and attache cases, which agents transported one at a time to the U.S. Embassy compound, he said.

Silveti said the theft was not detected by the Soviets for years and was not reported.

'The beauty of the operation is that the Russians did not realize they had been ripped off or even where it occurred,' Silveti said.

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