🤩 Discover new information from across the web

Manned Orbiting Laboratory

Cancelled United States Air Force space station

Top 10 Manned Orbiting Laboratory related articles

Manned Orbiting Laboratory
A 1967 conceptual drawing of the Gemini B reentry capsule separating from the MOL at the end of a mission
Station statistics
Carrier rocketTitan IIIM
Mission statusCanceled
Mass14,476 kg (31,914 lb)
Length21.92 m (71.9 ft)
Diameter3.05 m (10.0 ft)
Pressurized volume11.3 m3 (400 cu ft)
Orbital inclinationpolar orbit
Configuration of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory

The Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) was part of the United States Air Force (USAF) human spaceflight program in the 1960s. The project was developed from early USAF concepts of crewed space stations as reconnaissance satellites, and was a successor to the canceled Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar military reconnaissance space plane. MOL evolved into a single-use laboratory, for which crews would be launched on 30-day missions, and return to Earth using a Gemini B spacecraft derived from NASA's Gemini spacecraft.

The MOL program was announced to the public on 10 December 1963 as an inhabited platform to demonstrate the utility of putting people in space for military missions; its reconnaissance satellite mission was a secret black project. Seventeen astronauts were selected for the program, including Major Robert H. Lawrence Jr., the first African-American astronaut. The prime contractor for the spacecraft was McDonnell Aircraft; the laboratory was built by the Douglas Aircraft Company. The Gemini B was externally similar to NASA's Gemini spacecraft, although it underwent several modifications, including the addition of a circular hatch through the heat shield, which allowed passage between the spacecraft and the laboratory. Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC 6) was developed to permit launches into polar orbit.

As the 1960s progressed, the MOL competed with the Vietnam War for funds, and resultant budget cuts repeatedly caused postponement of the first operational flight. At the same time, automated systems rapidly improved, narrowing the benefits of a crewed space platform over an automated one. A single uncrewed test flight of the Gemini B spacecraft was conducted on 3 November 1966, but the MOL was canceled in June 1969 without any crewed missions being flown.

Seven of the astronauts selected for the MOL program transferred to NASA in August 1969 as NASA Astronaut Group 7, all of whom eventually flew in space on the Space Shuttle between 1981 and 1985. The Titan IIIM rocket developed for the MOL never flew, but its UA1207 solid rocket boosters were used on the Titan IV, and the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster was based on materials, processes and designs developed for them. NASA spacesuits were derived from the MOL ones, MOL's waste management system flew in space on Skylab, and NASA Earth Science used other MOL equipment. SLC 6 was refurbished, but plans to have military Space Shuttle launches from there were abandoned in the wake of the January 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Manned Orbiting Laboratory Intro articles: 16


At the height of the Cold War in the mid-1950s, the United States Air Force (USAF) was particularly interested in the Soviet Union's military and industrial capabilities. Starting in 1956, the United States conducted covert U-2 spy plane overflights of the Soviet Union. Twenty-four U-2 missions produced images of about 15 percent of the country with a maximum resolution of 0.61 meters (2 ft) before the downing of a U-2 in 1960 abruptly ended the program.[1] This left a gap in American espionage capabilities that it was hoped spy satellites would be able to fill.[2] In July 1957 – before anyone had flown in space – the USAF Wright Air Development Center published a paper that considered the development of a space station equipped with telescopes and other observation devices.[3] The USAF had already started a satellite program in 1956 called WS-117L. This had three components: SAMOS, a spy satellite; Corona, an experimental program to develop the technology; and MIDAS, an early warning system.[4]

General Bernard Adolph Schriever, the director of the MOL program from 1962 to 1966

The launch of Sputnik 1, the first satellite, by the Soviet Union on 4 October 1957, came as a profound shock to the American public, which had complacently assumed American technical superiority.[5][6] One benefit of the Sputnik crisis was that no government protested Sputnik's overflying their territory, thereby tacitly acknowledging the legality of satellites. While there was a big difference between the innocuous Sputnik and a spy satellite, it made it much harder for the Soviets to object to overflights by satellites from another country.[7] In February 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the USAF to proceed as quickly as possible with Corona as a joint Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-USAF interim project.[8][9]

In August 1958, Eisenhower decided to give responsibility for most forms of human space flight to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald A. Quarles transferred $53.8 million (equivalent to $373 million in 2019) that had been set aside for USAF space projects to NASA.[10] This left the USAF with a few programs with direct military impact.[11] One was a delta-wing, rocket-propelled glider that came to be called the Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar.[12] The USAF remained interested in space, and in March 1959, the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, General Thomas D. White asked the USAF Director of Development Planning to prepare a long-range plan for a USAF space program. One project identified in the resulting document was a "manned orbital laboratory".[13]

The USAF Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) issued a request to the Aeronautical Systems Division (ASD) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on 1 September 1959 for a formal study to be conducted of a military test space station (MTSS). The ASD asked components of the ARDC for suggestions as to what sort of experiments would be suitable for an MTSS, and 125 proposals were received. A request for proposal (RFP) was then issued on 19 February 1960, and twelve firms responded. On 15 August, General Electric, Lockheed Aircraft, Martin, McDonnell Aircraft, and General Dynamics shared $574,999 (equivalent to $3.84 million in 2019) for a study of the MTSS.[13] Their preliminary reports were submitted in January 1961, and final reports were received by July. With these in hand, on 16 August 1961 the USAF submitted a request for $5 million (equivalent to $33 million in 2019) in funding for space station studies in fiscal year 1963, but no funding was forthcoming.[14]

MOL patch

In its 26 April 1961 project plan, Dyna-Soar was to be launched into space on a suborbital ballistic trajectory by a Titan I booster, its first piloted suborbital flight in April 1965, followed by its first piloted orbital flight in April 1966.[15][16] In a 22 February 1962 memorandum to the Secretary of the Air Force, Eugene Zuckert, the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, decided to fast track Dyna-Soar and save money by skipping the suborbital testing phase; the Dyna-Soar was now planned to be launched by a Titan III booster.[14][17][18]

The same 22 February memorandum gave tacit approval for the development of a space station. With this in hand, the USAF staff and the Air Force Systems Command (AFSC) began planning for a space station, which was now known as a Military Orbital Development System (MODS). By the end of May, a proposed system package plan (PSPP) had been drawn up for MODS. For tracking purposes, it was given the numerical designation Program 287. MODS consisted of a space station, a modified NASA Gemini spacecraft that became known as Blue Gemini, and a Titan III launch vehicle. The space station was expected to provide a shirt-sleeve environment for a crew of four for up to 30 days.[14] On 25 August 1962, Zuckert informed General Bernard Adolph Schriever, the commander of the AFSC, that he was to proceed with studies of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) as the director of the program.[19][20] The name was chosen because NASA did not want the Department of Defense (DoD) to use the term "space station".[21]

On 9 November 1962, Zuckert submitted his proposals to McNamara. For fiscal year 1964, he requested $75 million (equivalent to $495 million in 2019) in funding for MODS and $102 million (equivalent to $682 million in 2019) for Blue Gemini.[22] Since Project Gemini was now associated with national security, McNamara considered taking over the entire project from NASA, but after some negotiation with NASA, McNamara and NASA Administrator James E. Webb reached an agreement on collaboration on the project in January 1963.[23]

McNamara called for a review of whether Dyna-Soar had military capabilities that could not be met by Gemini, on 18 January 1963. In his 14 November response, the Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E), Harold Brown, examined options for a space station. He preferred a four-man station that would be launched separately and crewed by astronauts arriving in Gemini spacecraft. Crews would rotate every 30 days, with resupply of consumables arriving every 120 days.[24][25] On 10 December 1963, McNamara issued a press release that officially announced the cancellation of Dyna-Soar, and the initiation of the MOL program.[26]

Soon after coming to office, the Kennedy administration tightened security regarding spy satellites in response to Soviet sensitivities.[27] No administration official would even admit they existed until President Jimmy Carter did so in 1978.[28] MOL was therefore a semi-secret project, with a public face but a covert reconnaissance mission, similar to that of the secret Corona spy satellite program, which went under the public name of Discoverer.[29]

Manned Orbiting Laboratory Background articles: 48


Major General Joseph S. Bleymaier, head of the MOL System Program Office (SPO)

On 16 December 1963, USAF Headquarters ordered Schriever to submit a development plan for the MOL.[30] About $6 million (equivalent to $39 million in 2019) was spent on preliminary studies, most of which were completed by September 1964. McDonnell prepared a study of the Gemini B spacecraft, Martin Marietta of the Titan III booster,[31] and Eastman Kodak of camera optics, the basic equipment of a satellite reconnaissance equipment.[27] Other studies examined key MOL subsystems such as environmental control, electrical power, navigation, attitude control stabilization, guidance, communications and radar.[32]

The United States Under Secretary of the Air Force and the Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), Brockway McMillan, asked the director of NRO Program A (the component of NRO responsible for the Air Force aspects of NRO activities), Major General Robert Evans Greer, to look into the MOL's potential reconnaissance capabilities.[31] In all, $3,237,716 (equivalent to $20.8 million in 2019) was expended on these studies. The most expensive was of the Gemini B spacecraft, which cost $1,189,500 (equivalent to $7.65 million in 2019), followed by the Titan III interface, which cost $910,000 (equivalent to $5.85 million in 2019).[32]

With these studies in hand, the USAF issued an RFP to twenty firms in January 1965. At the end of February, Boeing, Douglas, General Electric and Lockheed were selected to carry out design studies.[31] Covert NRO activities to be carried out by MOL were classified secret and given the code name "Dorian".[33] In February 1969, the MOL was given a Keyhole (reconnaissance satellite) designation as KH-10 Dorian.[34]

As a black project (i.e. one that was secret and publicly unacknowledged), but one that was impossible to completely conceal, MOL needed some "white" (i.e. unclassified and publicly acknowledged) experiments as cover. An MOL Experiments Working Group was created under Colonel William Brady. Some 400 experiments proposed by several agencies were examined. These were consolidated and reduced to 59, and twelve primary and eighteen secondary ones were selected. A 499-page report on the experiments was issued on 1 April 1964.[35] Although reconnaissance was its main purpose, "manned orbiting laboratory" was still an accurate description; the program hoped to prove that astronauts could perform militarily useful tasks in a shirt-sleeve environment in space for up to thirty days.[36]

Foot restraints were used to prevent the astronaut from floating away from the workstations. This technique was later adopted for the International Space Station.

The USAF recommended that the MOL use the Gemini B spacecraft with the Titan III booster. A program of six flights (one uncrewed and five crewed) was proposed, the first flight taking place in 1966.[37] The program was costed at $1.653 billion (equivalent to $11 billion in 2019). The Science Advisor to the President, Donald Hornig, reviewed the USAF's submission. He noted that for the sophisticated reconnaissance missions proposed, a human-operated system was far superior to an automated one, but speculated that with sufficient effort, the gap between the two could be reduced. He also noted that while countries had not objected to satellites passing overhead, a crewed space station might be a different matter,[38] but the Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, thought that this could be managed.[39]

There remained the question of whether the improved performance compared to the automated KH-8 Gambit 3 satellite then under development justified the cost. The Director of Central Intelligence, Admiral William Raborn agreed that it might. McNamara took the proposal to President Lyndon Johnson on 24 August 1965, who approved it, and issued an official announcement at a press conference the following day.[38][40] In January 1965, Schriever had appointed Brigadier General Harry L. Evans as his deputy for MOL. Evans had previously worked with Schriever in the USAF Ballistic Systems Division.[41] He had also been the Corona program manager, and had supervised SAMOS, MIDAS and SAINT, together with the early communications and weather satellite programs.[42][43] As well as being Schriever's deputy, Evans became Zuckert's Special Assistant for MOL on 18 January 1965. In this role, he reported directly to Zuckert, and was responsible for liaison between MOL and other agencies such as NASA.[41]

In the wake of Johnson's announcement of the program, MOL was given the designation Program 632A. The USAF announced the appointment of Schriever as MOL director and Evans as vice director, in charge of the MOL staff at the Pentagon, with Brigadier General Russell A. Berg as deputy director, in charge of the MOL staff at the Los Angeles Air Force Station in El Segundo, California.[44] The MOL System Program Office (SPO) was created in March 1964 under Brigadier General Joseph S. Bleymaier, the Deputy Commander of the AFSC Space Systems Division (SSD). By August 1965, the MOL had a staff of 42 military and 23 civilian personnel.[45] Schriever retired from the Air Force in August 1966, and was succeeded as head of the AFSC and MOL Program Director by Major General James Ferguson.[46] Evans retired from the Air Force on 27 March 1968, and was replaced by Major General James T. Stewart.[47]

MOL mockups like this were used to refine the design

Schriever and the Director of the NRO, Alexander H. Flax, signed a formal agreement covering MOL Black Financial Procedures on 4 November 1965. Under this agreement, the Deputy Director MOL would forward black budget cost estimates to the NRO Controller, who had the authority to obligate NRO funds. This was followed by a corresponding MOL White Financial Procedures Agreement, which was approved by Flax in December and signed by Leonard Marks Jr., the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Financial Management & Comptroller). This provided for a more regular channel, with funds going through the AFSC to its Space Systems Division (SSD) and thence to the MOL SPO. Thus far no definition contracts had been let, except for the Titan III expendable launch vehicle. On 30 September, Brown released $12 million (equivalent to $77 million in 2019) in fiscal year 1965 funds and $50 million (equivalent to $321 million in 2019) in fiscal year 1966 funds for the MOL definition phase activities.[48]

Johnson had announced two MOL contractors: Douglas and General Electric. While the former had considerable technical and managerial experience from the Thor, Genie and Nike projects, General Electric had experience with large optical systems, and, perhaps more importantly, had over a thousand personnel immediately cleared for Dorian, while Douglas had very few. A $10.55 million (equivalent to $65 million in 2019) fixed-price contract was signed with Douglas on 17 October. Contract negotiations with General Electric were also completed around this time, and the company was given $4.922 million (equivalent to $30 million in 2019), all but $0.975 million (equivalent to $6 million in 2019) of it in black budget funds.[48]

The Aerospace Corporation was given responsibility for general systems engineering and technical direction.[49] Douglas selected five major subcontractors: Hamilton-Standard for environmental control and life support; Collins Radio for the communications; Honeywell for the attitude control; Pratt & Whitney for the electrical power; and IBM for data management. Aerospace and the MOL SPO concurred with all but the last, noting that while IBM had a technically superior bid to Univac, its estimated cost was $32 million (equivalent to $196 million in 2019) compared to Univac's $16.8 million (equivalent to $103 million in 2019). Douglas decided to let study contracts to both firms.[48]

Manned Orbiting Laboratory Initiation articles: 47



First MOL astronaut group. Left to right: Michael J. Adams, Albert H. Crews, John L. Finley, Richard E. Lawyer, Lachlan Macleay, Francis G. Neubeck, James M. Taylor, and Richard H. Truly.
Second MOL astronaut group. Left to right: Robert F. (Bob) Overmyer, Henry W. (Hank) Hartsfield, Robert L. Crippen, Karol J. Bobko and C. Gordon Fullerton.
Third MOL astronaut group. Left to right: Robert T. Herres, Robert H. Lawrence Jr., Donald H. Peterson, and James A. Abrahamson.

To provide prospective astronauts for the X-15 rocket-powered aircraft, Dyna-Soar and MOL programs, on 5 June 1961 the USAF created the Aerospace Research Pilot Course at the USAF Experimental Flight Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The school was renamed the Aerospace Research Pilot School (ARPS) on 12 October 1961. Four classes were conducted between June 1961 and May 1963, the third class receiving instruction on Dyna-Soar as part of the course.[50][51] The commandant of the ARPS, Colonel Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager, advised Schriever to restrict the selection of astronauts for the MOL to ARPS graduates. The program did not accept applications; 15 candidates were selected and sent to Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, for a week of medical evaluation in October 1964. The evaluations were similar to those conducted for the NASA astronaut groups.[52][53]

For the first three NASA astronaut groups in 1959, 1962 and 1963, the USAF had established a selection board to review candidates before forwarding their names to NASA. The Chief of Staff of the USAF, General John P. McConnell, informed Schriever that he expected the selection of MOL astronauts to follow the same procedure. A selection board was convened in September 1965, chaired by Major General Jerry D. Page. On 15 September, the selection criteria for MOL was announced.[54] Candidates had to be:

  • Qualified military pilots;
  • Graduates of the ARPS;
  • Serving officers, recommended by their commanding officers; and
  • Holding US citizenship from birth.[54]

In October 1965, the MOL Policy Committee decided that MOL crew members would be designated "MOL Aerospace Research Pilots" rather than astronauts.[55]

The names of the first group of eight MOL pilots were announced on 12 November 1965 as a Friday night news dump to avoid press attention.[56]

To prevent their return to the Navy, as would normally have occurred on graduation from ARPS, Finley and Truly were retained at ARPS as instructors until the announcement was made.[56]

In late 1965, the USAF began selecting a second group of MOL pilots. This time applications were accepted. Selection occurred at the same time as that for NASA Astronaut Group 5, many applying to both programs. Successful candidates were told that NASA or MOL had chosen them, with no explanation why they had been chosen by one and not the other.[57] Over 500 applications were received, from which 100 names were forwarded to USAF Headquarters. The MOL Program Office selected 25, who were sent to Brooks Air Force Base for physical evaluation in January and February 1966. Five were selected, and their names were publicly announced on 17 June 1966:

Bobko was the first graduate of the United States Air Force Academy to be selected as an astronaut.[59]

Eight other finalists for the second class had not yet completed ARPS. One was already attending; the other seven were sent to Edwards Air Force Base to join Class 66-B. They would be considered for the next MOL astronaut selection. The MOL Astronaut Selection Board met again on 11 May 1967, and recommended that four of the eight be appointed. The MOL Program Office announced names of those selected for the third group of MOL astronauts on 30 June 1967:

Lawrence was the first African-American to be chosen as an astronaut.[61]


MOL astronauts knew that the program would be a space laboratory for military experiments but did not learn of its reconnaissance role until after selection; they were advised to resign if they disliked the classified aspect. They received security clearances and were introduced to Sensitive Compartmented Information such as Dorian, Gambit, Talent (intelligence obtained from spy plane overflights) and Keyhole (intelligence obtained from satellites) – what astronaut Dick Truly described as "two space programs: the public, what the public knew and astronauts and all that jazz, and then this other world of capability that didn't exist".[62][63]

Phase I of crew training was a two-month introduction to the MOL program in the form of a series of briefings from NASA and the contractors. Phase II lasted for five months, and was conducted at the ARPS, where the astronauts were given technical training on the MOL vehicles and their operation procedures. This training was conducted in classrooms, in training flights, and in sessions on the T-27 space flight simulator. Phase III was continuous training on the MOL systems and providing crew input to them. The pilots spent most of their time in this phase. Phase IV was training for specific missions.[64]

Simulators were developed for each of the different MOL systems: a Laboratory Module Simulator, Mission Payload Simulator, and Gemini B Procedures Simulator. Zero-G training was conducted in a Boeing C-135 Stratolifter reduced-gravity aircraft. A Flotation-Egress trainer allowed the astronauts to prepare for a splashdown and the possibility of the spacecraft sinking.[64] NASA had pioneered neutral buoyancy simulation as a training aid to simulate the space environment. The pilots were given scuba diving training at the US Navy Underwater Swimmers School in Key West, Florida. Training was then conducted on a General Electric simulator on Buck Island, near St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. Water survival training was conducted at the USAF Sea Survival School at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida, and jungle survival training at the Tropical Survival School at Howard Air Force Base in the Panama Canal Zone. In July 1967, the pilots underwent training at the National Photographic Interpretation Center in Washington, DC.[65]

Manned Orbiting Laboratory Astronauts articles: 53

Planned operations


From the MOL's regular 150-kilometer (80 nmi) orbit, the main camera had a circular field of view 2,700 meters (9,000 ft) across, although at top magnification it was more like 1,300 meters (4,200 ft). This was much smaller than many of the targets that the NRO was interested in, such as air bases, shipyards and missile ranges. The astronauts would search for targets using the tracking and acquisition telescopes, which had a circular view of the landscape about 12.0 km (6.5 nmi) across, with a resolution of about 9.1 meters (30 ft). The main camera would focus on the most important targets, providing a very high resolution image. The aim was to have the most interesting part of the target in the center of the image; due to the optics used, the image would not be as sharp around the edges of the frame.[66]

While surveillance targets were pre-programmed and the camera could operate automatically, astronauts could decide target priority for photographing. By avoiding cloudy areas and identifying more interesting subjects (an open missile silo instead of a closed one, for example), they would save film,[67] the major limitation, since it had to be returned in the small Gemini B spacecraft. In cloudy areas like Moscow, it was estimated that the MOL would be 45 percent more efficient in its use of film than an automated satellite system through the ability to react to cloud cover, but for sunnier areas like the Tyuratam missile complex, this might be no more than 15 percent. The selective targeting afforded by human-guided surveillance would be more efficient than that obtained by robotic satellites. Of the 159 KH-7 Gambit photographs of the Tyuratam area, only 9 percent showed missiles on the launch pads, and of 77 photographs of missile silos, only 21 percent were with the doors open. The analysts identified 60 MOL targets in the complex. Only two or three could be photographed on each pass, but astronauts could select the most interesting ones on the spur of the moment, and photograph them with greater resolution than Gambit. It was hoped that valuable technical information would thereby be obtained.[66]

The Air Force expected that an improved version of the MOL space station, known as Block II, expected to be available for the sixth crewed flight in July 1974, would add image transmission and geodetic system targeting. Astronauts would perform infrared, multispectral, and ultraviolet astronomy when they had time during an extended mission duration on twice-annual flights.[68] After Block II, the MOL program managers hoped to build larger, permanent facilities. A planning document depicted 12-man and 40-man stations, both with self-defense capability. It described the 40-man, Y-shaped station as a "spaceborne command post" in synchronous orbit. With the "key requirement – post attack survivability", the station would be capable of "Strategic/tactical decision making" during a general war.[68][69]

Flight schedule

Flight Schedule as of 1 September 1966
Flight Date Details Reference
1 15 April 1969 First Titan IIIM qualification flight (simulated Orbiting Vehicle). [70][71]
2 1 July 1969 Second uncrewed Gemini-B/Titan IIIM qualification flight (Gemini-B flown alone, without an active laboratory). [70][71]
3 15 December 1969 A crew of two, commanded by Taylor (possibly with Crews) would have spent thirty days in orbit. [70][71][72]
4 15 April 1970 Second crewed mission. [70][71]
5 15 July 1970 Third crewed mission. [70][71]
6 15 October 1970 Fourth crewed MOL mission, of 30 to 60 days duration. All-Navy crew composed of Truly and either Crippen or Overmyer. [70][71][73][74]
7 15 January 1971 Fifth crewed MOL mission [70][71]

Manned Orbiting Laboratory Planned operations articles: 13


The Gemini spacecraft originated at NASA in 1961 as a development of the Mercury spacecraft, and was originally called Mercury Mark II. The name "Gemini" was chosen in recognition of its two-man crew.[75] The NASA Gemini spacecraft was redesigned for the MOL and named Gemini B, although the NASA Gemini spacecraft was never referred to as Gemini A.[76] The astronauts would fly into space in the Gemini B capsule, which would be launched together with the MOL modules atop a Titan IIIM rocket. Once in orbit, the crew would power down the capsule and activate and enter the laboratory module. After about one month of space station operations, the crew would return to the Gemini B capsule, power it up, separate it from the station, and perform reentry. Gemini B had an autonomy of about 14 hours once detached from MOL.[77][78]

Like the NASA Gemini, the Gemini B spacecraft would splash down in the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans and be recovered by the same DoD spacecraft recovery forces used by NASA's Project Gemini and Project Apollo.[79] NASA had a paraglider under development to enable a Gemini spacecraft to land on land, but was unable to get it working in time for Project Gemini missions. In March 1964, NASA attempted to get the USAF interested in using the paraglider with Gemini B, but after reviewing the troubled paraglider program, the USAF concluded that the paraglider still had too many problems to overcome, and it turned down the offer.[80] The MOL laboratory module was intended to be used for a single mission only, with no provision for a later mission to dock and reuse it. Instead, its orbit would decay and it would be dumped in the ocean after 30 days.[79]

Externally Gemini B was quite similar to its NASA twin, but there were many differences. The most noticeable was that it featured a rear hatch for the crew to enter the MOL space station. Notches were cut into the ejection seat headrests to allow access to the hatch. The seats were therefore mirror images of each other instead of being the same. Gemini B also had a larger diameter heat shield to handle the higher energy of reentry from a polar orbit. The number of reentry control system thrusters was increased from four to six. There was no orbit attitude and maneuvering system (OAMS), because capsule orientation for reentry was handled by the forward reentry control system thrusters, and the laboratory module had its own reaction control system for orientation.[77][78][81]

The Gemini B systems were designed for long-term orbital storage (40 days), but equipment for long duration flights was removed since the Gemini B capsule itself was intended to be used only for launch and reentry. It had a different cockpit layout and instruments. As a result of the Apollo 1 fire in January 1967, in which three NASA astronauts were killed in a ground test of their spacecraft, the MOL was switched to use a helium-oxygen atmosphere instead of a pure oxygen one. At takeoff, the astronauts would breathe pure oxygen in their spacesuits while the cabin was pressurized with helium. It would then be brought up to a helium-oxygen mix.[77][78] This was an option that had been provided for in the original design.[82]

Four Gemini B spacecraft were ordered from McDonnell, along with a boilerplate aerodynamically similar test article, at a cost of $168.2 million (equivalent to $1004 million in 2019).[81] In November 1965, NASA agreed to hand over Gemini spacecraft No. 2 and Static Test Article No. 4 to the MOL program.[83] Gemini spacecraft No. 2, which had flown in the 1965 Gemini 2 mission, was refurbished as a prototype Gemini B spacecraft.[84]

Gemini B specifications

  • Crew: 2
  • Maximum duration: 40 days
  • Length: 3.35 m (11.0 ft)
  • Diameter: 2.32 m (7 ft 7 in)
  • Cabin volume: 2.55 m3 (90 cu ft)
  • Gross mass: 1,983 kg (4,372 lb)
  • RCS thrusters: 16 by 98 newtons (3.6 lbf × 22.0 lbf)
  • RCS impulse: 283 seconds (2.78 km/s)
  • Electric system: 4 kilowatt-hours (14 MJ)
  • Battery: 180 A·h (648,000 C)
  • Reference:[77]

Gemini B layout

Manned Orbiting Laboratory Spacecraft articles: 14

Space station

Mockup of the MOL laboratory module interior and transfer tunnel

The hatch in the Gemini B spacecraft's heat shield connected to a transfer tunnel that ran through the adaptor module. This contained the cryogenic hydrogen, helium and oxygen storage tanks, and housed the environmental control system, fuel cells, and four quad reaction control system thrusters and their propellant tanks. The transfer tunnel gave access to the laboratory module.[85]

The purpose-built laboratory module was divided into two sections, but there was no partition between the two, and the crew could move freely between them. It was 5.8 meters (19 ft) long and 3.05 meters (10.0 ft) in diameter. Both were octagonal in shape, with eight bays. In the "upper" half (as it would have been on the launch pad), Bays 1 and 8 contained storage compartments; Bay 2, the environmental control system; Bay 3, the hygiene/waste compartment; Bay 4, the biochemical test console and work station; Bays 5 and 6, the airlock; and Bay 7, a glovebox for handling liquids; below that, a secondary food console. In the "lower" half, Bay 1 contained a motion chair that measured the mass of the crew; Bay 2, two performance test panels; Bay 3, the environmental control system controls; Bay 4, a physiology test console; Bay 5, an exercise device; Bay 6, two emergency oxygen masks; Bay 7, a view port and instrument panel; and Bay 8, the main spacecraft control station.[85]

Space station specifications

  • Crew: 2
  • Maximum duration: 40 days
  • Orbit: Polar
  • Length: 21.92 m (71.9 ft)
  • Diameter: 3.05 m (10.0 ft)
  • Habitable volume: 11.3 m3 (400 cu ft)
  • Gross mass: 14,476 kg (31,914 lb)
  • Payload: 2,700 kg (6,000 lb)
  • Power: fuel cells or solar cells
  • Reaction control system: N
  • Reference:[73]

Space station layout

Manned Orbiting Laboratory Space station articles: 10


MOL MH-7 training spacesuit

The MOL program's requirements for a spacesuit were a product of the spacecraft design. The Gemini B capsule had little room inside, and the MOL astronauts gained access to the laboratory through a hatch in the heat shield. This required a more flexible suit than those of NASA astronauts. The NASA astronauts had custom-made sets of flight, training and backup suits, but for the MOL the intention was that spacesuits would be provided in standard sizes with adjustable elements. The USAF sounded out the David Clark Company, International Latex Corporation, B. F. Goodrich and Hamilton Standard for design proposals in 1964. Hamilton Standard and David Clark each developed four prototype suits for the MOL.[86]

A competition was held at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in January 1967, and a production contract awarded to Hamilton Standard. At least 17 blue MOL MH-7 training suits were delivered between May 1968 and July 1969. A single MH-8 flight configuration suit was delivered in October 1968 for certification testing. The flight suit was intended to be worn during launch and reentry.[87]

The contract for the launch/reentry suit was followed by a second competition in September 1967 for a suit for extravehicular activity (EVA).[88] This too was won by Hamilton Standard. The design was complicated by USAF concerns that a crew member might slip their tethers and float away. As a result, an astronaut maneuvering unit (AMU) was developed and integrated with the life support system as an integrated maneuvering and life support system (IMLSS). The design was completed by October 1968, and a prototype without cover garments was delivered in March 1969. The cover garments were never completed.[88]

Manned Orbiting Laboratory Spacesuits articles: 5