Operation Morning Light

Cosmos 954, a Soviet nuclear-powered satellite launched in September 1977 in Kazakhstan, re-entered the earth’s atmosphere in the early morning hours of 24 January 1978. The United States, which had mobilized its nuclear emergency response team (NEST) in early January, and Canada, which activated its Nuclear Accident Support Team (NAST) on 20 January, responded. Their search activities, under the designation “Operation Morning Light,” determined that radioactive satellite debris had survived re-entry and reached the ground. Their subsequent clean-up operations sought to safeguard the welfare of Northern Canadians living in the affected area. By critically evaluating the methods, equipment, and personnel employed during Morning Light, this recently declassified military report – published for the first time – explains how the combination of civilian scientific expertise with military capabilities succeeded in overcoming large distances across a frigid, subarctic environment to effectively locate and recover the radioactive remnants of Cosmos 954.

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P. Whitney Lackenbauer, Ph.D., is a professor in the department of history and co-director of the Centre on Foreign Policy and Federalism at St. Jerome’s University (University of Waterloo), Waterloo, Ontario. He is the Honorary Lieutenant Colonel of 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (1CRPG) based in Yellowknife. His recent books include Two Years Below the Horn: A Canadian’s Experiences in Antarctica, 1944-46 (co-edited 2017); Canadian Armed Forces Arctic Operations, 1945-2015: Historical and Contemporary Lessons Learned (co-edited 2017); Vigilans: 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (2015); Le Canada et l’Arctique (co-authored 2015); and The Canadian Rangers: A Living History (2013). His forthcoming books include histories of the Joint Arctic Weather Stations and the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line.

Ryan Dean is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of policial science at the University of Calgary and a fellow at the Centre on Foreign Policy and Federalism at St. Jerome’s University (University of Waterloo), Waterloo, Ontario. His dissertation examines the development of Canadian Arctic policy since the late 1980s. His recent work includes (Re)Conceptualizing Arctic Security: Selected Articles from the Journal of Military and Security Studies (co-edited 2017) and “Conceiving and Executing Operation Gauntlet: The Canadian-Led Raid on Spitzbergen, 1941,” Canadian Military History 26:2 (co-authored 2017).