A Cold War-era spy satellite camera developed right here in Rochester is back home. 

Classified for decades, the Gambit-1 was used to spy on the Soviet Union. Strasenburgh Planetarium is helping to tell the story behind the space age camera, and the men who designed it.

On Tuesday, the planetarium hosted a reunion of old friends and colleagues. Sixty years ago, they were part of an important mission.

“We were a pretty young bunch,” said Barry Blake, a retired Kodak engineer. “We were all 25, so you can all do your math right now."

Blake was part of a team of Eastman Kodak engineers which, in the late 1950’s, began working on a highly sensitive project for the U.S. government. The top secret satellite camera system would be used to spy on the Soviet Union.

“The technical challenges were so great and so intense, that the long-term thing sometimes didn't enter into it,” said John Shafer, another Kodak engineer. “We worked on a strictly need to know."

Known as the KH-7 Gambit, the system was used to take the first high resolution photos of Soviet nuclear and missile sites. In the late 1950's, the Kodak team hunkered down at the company’s Hawkeye plant and got to work on a project critical to national security.

“We were isolated from the world,” said Blake. “It was a one way isolation. Nobody could come in, and that was good."

“We were working together,” said David McDowell. “We couldn't talk about it outside, but we all knew it was critical for the success of the United States in the Cold War."

The Gambit-1's optical system is now on display at Strasenburgh Planetarium, a department of the Rochester Museum and Science Center. The 77-inch focal length of the camera was so great that engineers say it could capture the lettering on top of the Kodak tower in downtown Rochester, from the other side of Buffalo.

Given the top secret nature of the project, there wasn't much the engineers could say – which made for some interesting situations.

"It was that business of going away, and nobody knowing where you were going,” said McDowell. “Neighbors, friends saying where were you? Well, I can't quite talk about it."