Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL)









The USAF Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) was intended to be a two-man military space station. The MOL's principal mission (classified at the time) was to establish a manned surveillance platform in orbit, built around the DORIAN high resolution camera system. Between 1965 and 1967, three groups of military astronauts (13 Air Force, 3 Navy, and 1 Marine) were selected to fly the MOL. An unmanned MOL spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral in November 1966. The Gemini-B, a modified version of the Gemini spacecraft, would have been employed to return the MOL astronauts to earth after the completion of their missions. The Gemini-B was unique in that it had a circular hatch cut through its heat shield to allow the astronauts to enter the MOL after they reached orbit. The first manned mission of the MOL was slated for February 1972, but the program was cancelled in June 1969, after the expenditure of 1.56 billion dollars, primarily because most of the proposed activities could be accomplished by unmanned reconnaissance satellites.



Photos of Gemini B Adapter Module engineering mock-up, taken by Mike Jenne at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama, on July 17, 2016.


ASTROSPIES - An excellent PBS NOVA segment concerning the US MOL and Soviet Almaz programs, which initially aired on Feb 12, 2008. Use this link to watch the video on-line. Be aware that this documentary was produced before most of the details of the MOL were declassified.


MOL Art Collection. A collection of MOL illustrations (primarily from MOL contractors) acquired by Dr. John Charles. In describing the collection, he says: “The images cover the astronauts' life on the MOL vehicles, including the Gemini-B crew capsule and the pressurized crew compartment of the MOL, but don't even hint at the NRO's highly-classified KH-10 DORIAN reconnaissance camera system that was MOL's primary payload.” A manager at NASA’s Manned Spaceflight Center, Dr. Charles is also an amateur spaceflight historian and authority on the MOL; the site (AstroCryptoTriviology) also contains several of his articles and blog posts about the MOL and manned spaceflight.



“History of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory Program,” MOL Project Office, Department of the US Air Force, Washington DC, February 1970  Originally classified Top Secret, declassified by NRO  in July 2015, this comprehensive document provides some excellent insights into the MOL program.



MOL Extravehicular Space Suit Data Book,” The Aerospace Corporation, November 1964.  Declassified by NRO  in July 2015, this document contains background technical information concerning the pressurized space suit developed for the MOL program.



“The Dorian Files Revealed: A Compendium of the NRO’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory Documents,” National Reconnaissance Office, 2015

On October 22, 2015, the NRO hosted a unique declassification MOL event at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. In conjunction with the event, they publically released (in print form and on their public website) hundreds of previously classified documents concerning the true mission (orbital reconnaissance) of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory. The declassification event featured a panel discussion that included NRO officials (Dr. Robert McDonald and Dr. James Outzen), the former NASA liaison to the MOL program (Dr. Mike Yarymovych) and five former MOL astronauts (James Abrahamson, Karol Bobko, Albert Crews, Bob Crippen and Richard Truly). 





Index, Declassified Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) Records  Intended as a companion index to “The Dorian Files Revealed” document.





Photo Index, Declassified Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) Records: An NRO Index of 282 declassified images associated with the MOL program, including construction and testing of various MOL components. Intended as a companion index to “The Dorian Files Revealed” document.






Podcast of panel discussion from MOL declassification event


Declassified Manned Orbiting Laboratory/DORIAN Illustrations National Reconnaissance Office website.






Download Zip-Compressed Folders for NRO diagrams:











 "From the Sea to the Stars (A Chronicle of the U.S. Navy’s Space and Space-related Activities 1944-2009"  (Applied Research Laboratory, The University of Pennsylvania, 2010). A thorough history of Navy space activities, sponsored by the Navy. The second chapter briefly describes the Navy's plans for a surveillance sensor package to be flown aboard an MOL.