When it comes to creativity and ingenuity, I’ve always been fascinated by hacker culture. There’s something to be learned in business from the lengths that people will go to achieve a goal.

Before computers and the internet, two Italian brothers used radio technology to hack into the Russian space program and record the first people in space. This is their story.

One of their most interesting hacks was to listen to John Glenn in space:

The Americans were due to put a man into space on 20 February 1962, 10 months after Gagarin. The Judica-Cordiglia brothers were desperate to listen in, but NASA kept the wavelength secret for fear of Soviet interference.

“We came across a photograph of an unmanned NASA Mercury capsule being recovered from the ocean,” said Gian. John Glenn was going to fly in the same craft. In the photograph they could see the antenna. “If we could accurately determine the length of this antenna then we’d have the frequency.” But the brothers lacked a scale.

They told their father, a lecturer in legal medicine at Milan University, who had a solution. In the picture, four frogmen were sitting in a boat. He used the bizygomatic index – the distance between the right and left cheek bones in proportion to the width of the face – to calculate what 1cm (0.4in) represented on the photograph.

“It seemed so simple but no one else had thought of it. Somehow, we’d managed to crack America’s top secret!” Achille said.