Manned Orbiting Laboratory

Roamy here.  While researching my Day of Remembrance posts, I learned about Robert Lawrence, who was the first African-American selected to be an astronaut.  He was in the third class selected for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, in 1967.

Astronauts Robert Herres, Robert Lawrence, Donald Peterson and James Abrahamson

The MOL was a planned space station for reconnaissance in the mid- to late-1960’s using a Gemini capsule and a modified man-rated Titan III.  It was to be launched from Vandenberg AFB for polar orbits.  They chose a helium/oxygen atmosphere for the crew capsule (which makes me wonder if they would talk funny).   A two-man crew would have a month-long mission in space before returning in the Gemini capsule.  I missed what would happen to the rest of the MOL – I would assume they would nudge it into deorbiting and burning up rather than leaving spy equipment in orbit.

A good history of the MOL project can be found here.  Project delays, a new President, the Vietnam War, and advances in reconnaissance satellites converged in 1969 and led to the cancellation of MOL. 

There were a total of 17 astronaut candidates for MOL, thirteen were Air Force, three were Navy, and one Marine.  Two were killed in airplane crashes.  Seven would move over to NASA and fly on the Space Shuttle – Robert Crippen (later director of Kennedy Space Center), Richard Truly (later NASA Administrator), Karol Bobko, Charles Fullerton, Henry Hartsfield, Robert Overmeyer, and Donald Peterson.  James Abrahamson would become director of the Strategic Defense Initiative.  Robert Herres would become the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Soviets were working on a similar project which eventually became the Salyut space stations, but that’s another post.

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