Manned Orbital Laboratory

Manned Orbital Laboratory

Infobox Space station
station = "Manned Orbital Laboratory"

station_image_size = 350
station_image_caption = MOL test launch Nov. 3, 1966 from Cape Canaveral, FL. (USAF)
crew = 2
status = Cancelled
mass = 14,476 kg
length = 21.92 m
diameter = 3.05 m
volume = 11.3
inclination = polar or sun synchronous orbit
in_orbit = 40 days

The Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) was part of the United States Air Force's manned spaceflight program, a successor to the cancelled X-20 Dyna-Soar project. [ [ NASA Archives on MOL] ] [ [ NASA Acronym List] ] It was announced to the public on the same day that the Dyna-Soar program was cancelled, December 10, 1963. Initially, the MOL was intended to prove the utility of man in space for military missions. However, the program was redirected in the mid-1960s and developed as a space station used for reconnaissance purposes. The space station used the Gemini B spacecraft that was derived from NASA's Gemini program. The contractor for the MOL was the Douglas Aircraft Company. The Gemini B/MOL craft was externally similar to NASA's Gemini spacecraft although it underwent several modifications. The most obvious was the addition of a circular hatch through the heat shield to allow passage between the spacecraft and the laboratory.


There was one test flight of an MOL mockup that was constructed from a Titan II propellant tank. The Gemini 2 spacecraft was re-flown on a 33-minute sub-orbital test flight. After the Gemini was separated for its sub-orbital reentry, the MOL mockup continued on into orbit and released three satellites. A hatch was installed in the Gemini 2 heat shield to provide access to the MOL and was tested in the sub-orbital reentry. The test flight was launched by the USAF on November 3, 1966 at 13:50:42 UTC on launch vehicle Titan IIIC-9 from LC-40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Gemini 2-MOL space capsule was recovered near Ascension Island in the South Atlantic by the USS "La Salle".

The MOL was going to have a helium-oxygen atmosphere. It used a Gemini B spacecraft as a reentry vehicle. The crew were to be launched with the Gemini B and MOL and returned to earth in the Gemini B. They would conduct up to 30 days of military reconnaissance using large optics, cameras, and side-looking radar.

In response to the announcement of the MOL, the USSR commissioned the development of its own military space station, Almaz. Three Almaz space stations flew as Salyut space stations. The first was a failure; the remaining two were successfully manned for several weeks.

In 2005, two MH-7 training space suits from the MOL program were discovered in a locked room in the Launch Complex 5/6 museum at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station [* [ "Suits for Space Spies"] . Retrieved June 4, 2005.]

MOL astronauts

*MOL Group 1 - November 1965
**Michael J. Adams (Air Force)
**Albert H. Crews Jr. (Air Force)
**John L. Finley (Navy)
**Richard E. Lawyer (Air Force)
**Lachlan Macleay (Air Force)
**Francis G. Neubeck (Air Force)
**James M. Taylor (Air Force)
**Richard H. Truly (Navy)

*MOL Group 2 - June 1966
**Karol J. Bobko (Air Force)
**Robert L. Crippen (Navy)
**Charles G. Fullerton (Air Force)
**Henry W. Hartsfield, Jr. (Air Force)
**Robert F. Overmyer (Marine Corps)

*MOL Group 3 - June 1967
**James A. Abrahamson (Air Force)
**Robert T. Herres (Air Force)
**Robert H. Lawrence, Jr. (Air Force)
**Donald H. Peterson (Air Force)

Proposed MOL flight schedule

* 1966 November 3 - MOL mockup - Gemini 2 launched unmanned
* 1970 December 1 - MOL 1 - First unmanned Gemini-B/Titan 3M qualification flight (Gemini-B flown alone, without an active MOL).
* 1971 June 1 - MOL 2 - Second unmanned Gemini-B/Titan 3M qualification flight (Gemini-B flown alone, without an active MOL).
* 1972 February 1 - MOL 3 - A crew of two (James M. Taylor, Albert H. Crews) would have spent thirty days in orbit.
* 1972 November 1 - MOL 4 - Second manned mission .
* 1973 August 1 - MOL 5 - Third manned mission.
* 1974 May 1 - MOL 6 - Fourth manned MOL mission. All Navy crew composed of Richard H. Truly and Robert Crippen.
* 1975 February 1 - MOL 7 - Fifth manned MOL.

Operational MOLs were to be launched on Titan IIIM rockets from SLC-6 at Vandenberg AFB, California and LC-40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.


Starting in 1965 a large optical system was added to the spacecraft for military reconnaissance. This camera system was codenamed "Dorian" and given the designation KH-10. The project was cancelled on June 10, 1969 before any operational flights occurred.

The preceding Key Hole Project was KH-9 and the next in series project was the KH-11.


The MOL program was cancelled in June 1969 when it was determined the capabilities of unmanned spy satellites met or exceeded the capabilities of manned MOL missions. There were 14 MOL astronauts in the program when it was cancelled, and NASA offered those under 35 years of age the opportunity to transfer to the NASA astronaut program. Seven of the 14 MOL astronauts were younger than 35 and took the offer: Richard H. Truly, Karol J. Bobko, Robert Crippen, C. Gordon Fullerton, Henry W. Hartsfield, Robert F. Overmyer, and Donald Peterson. All eventually flew on the Space Shuttle.

A test article at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio is the Gemini B spacecraft (sometimes confused with Blue Gemini). It is recognized by its distinctive "US Air Force" written on the side, and the circular hatch cut through the heat shield. [ [ Gemini-B Spacecraft]


*Crew: 2
*Maximum duration: 40 days
*Orbit: Sun synchronous or polar
*Length: 21.92 m
*Diameter: 3.05 m
*Cabin Volume: 11.3 m³
*Mass: 14,476 kg
*Payload: 2,700 kg
*Power: fuel cells or solar cells
*RCS system: N2O4/MMH

ee also

*Almaz - Soviet equivalent to MOL; launched under "Salyut" name
*Polyus - Soviet orbiting battle station
*Big Gemini
*Titan III
*TKS Spacecraft - Soviet equivalent to MOL and Big Gemini spacecrafts


*Wade, Mark (April 18, 2004). [ MOL] . "Encyclopedia Astronautica". Retrieved April 23, 2004.
* " [ Astrospies] " "Nova". WGBH/PBS. First aired 2008-02-12.


External links

* " [ Astrospies] " (complete episode of "Nova")


Top row L-R: Herres, Hartsfield, Overmyer, Fullerton, Crippen, Peterson, Bobko, Abrahamson.
Bottom Row L-R: Finley, Lawyer, Taylor, Crews, Neubeck, Truly (USAF)
Blue Gemini, but they were different spacecraft.(NMUSAF)

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