MOL-carrying “negation missiles” that would use non-nuclear warheads, the inspection of satellites, and the encapsulation and recovery of enemy spacecraft, which may have been accomplished using rocket-propelled net devices. The anticipated duties of MOL crews included reconnaissance activities under the code name Project Dorian. Dorian was a super-powerful camera system that could acquire photographic coverage of the Soviet Union and other locations with a resolution better than the best-unmanned system at the time, the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)‘s first-generation Gambit spacecraft.

A newly released treasure trove of historical data reveals intriguing details about a secret Cold War project known as the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL).

The U.S. Air Force’s MOL program ran from December 1963 until its cancellation in June 1969. The program spent $1.56 billion during that time, according to some estimates.

Early in the MOL program, its architects weren’t quite sure what MOL was all about. “Is the MOL a laboratory?” reads one of the newly released documents, which were put out by the NRO. “Or is it an operational reconnaissance spacecraft? (Or a bomber?)”