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Espionage balloons were a development of the observation balloons used even before the World War I behind the front line. Unlike observation balloons, espionage balloons were neither manned nor moored to the ground; they were designed to fly deep into hostile territories, where they would record intelligence data and transmit[clarification needed] them back to the home base. As such, espionage balloons could only be operated successfully when the weather forecast and the wind direction were favorable. They were more economical (and indeed dispensable, often falling victim to air defense) than manned reconnaissance aircraft, as they did not put flying personnel into harm's way. They were usually hot air balloons.
Moreover, during the Cold War, espionage balloons launched by the "Free world" also had a secondary psychological warfare capability, carrying propaganda pamphlets and consumer goods (which were supposedly not freely available inside Communist states) that would be released or otherwise delivered onto enemy territories.
The advent of spy satellites, coupled with the end of the Cold War, have rendered espionage balloons obsolete.
Surveillance balloon programs include:
- Nighttime photography, a description of WW2 aerial reconnaissance photography by Harold Eugene Edgerton
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