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Declassified: The NRO's Abandoned Plans for a Manned Spy Space Station

The National Reconnaissance Office released Oct. 22 a trove of declassified records —including this silent video and photos below — from the 1960s about a military human spaceflight program.

The Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) would have sent military astronauts to a small space station.

The cover story of MOL was that the U.S. Air Force was testing the "military usefulness" of humans into space, but the real purpose of the program was to operate a reconnaissance satellite for the NRO.

President Nixon cancelled the program in June 1969, before its first flight, because of its increasing costs and the improved performance of unmanned reconnaissance satellites.

The Air Force selected 17 astronauts for MOL before the program's cancellation. Some MOL astronauts transferred to NASA including Robert Crippen, who flew on the first space shuttle mission in 1981, and Richard Truly, who went on to become NASA administrator.

This story was provided by SpaceNews, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.

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Jeff Foust
Jeff Foust

Jeff Foust is a Senior Staff Writer at SpaceNews, a space industry news magazine and website, where he writes about space policy, commercial spaceflight and other aerospace industry topics. Jeff has a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a bachelor's degree in geophysics and planetary science from the California Institute of Technology. You can see Jeff's latest projects by following him on Twitter (opens in new tab).