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?)”

Former MOL astronauts taking part in the Oct. 22 event included James Abrahamson, Karol Bobko, Albert Crews, Bob Crippen and Richard Truly. Michael Yarymovych, who served as technical director of the U.S. Air Force MOL effort, also participated. On the project, Yarymovych said,

We were doing something that was exciting and important. We’re going to also do something very important for national security. We are going to go look behind the Iron Curtain … defend the nation while doing the exciting things of manned spaceflight.

 

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