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Meet the Manned Orbiting LaboratoryAt the peak of the space race – when the Soviet Union was considered a threat, and the Beatles were a hot new band invading American music – the United States had a partially classified human space program. It was called the Manned Orbiting Laboratory.
First announced in December 1963, the program's public aim was to figure out the "military usefulness" of putting a human into space. Its real, classified aim was to put a crewed surveillance satellite into orbit to spy on the Soviet Union. The program never got into space.
The program was cancelled in June 1969 (the month before humans landed on the moon) due to budgetary concerns. In late 2015, the National Reconnaissance Office released hundreds of photos and documents about the Manned Orbiting Laboratory. Here are some of the best ones.
Up first: An early space station
An early space stationSlide 2 of 44
An early space stationAn undated artist's conception of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory. The picture shows the station being powered by solar panels. A telescope juts out to the right of the station. The spacecraft at top is a version of the two-person Gemini spacecraft that NASA flew in Earth orbit between 1964 and 1966.
MOL operated for more than five years and spent $1.56 billion in 1969 dollars ($130 billion in 2016). According to the National Reconnaissance Office, the program was cancelled because of budgetary pressure from the Apollo program and the Vietnam War. There also was a political perception that MOL duplicated what NASA was doing with its human spaceflight program.
Up next: A 1960s VisionSlide 3 of 44
A 1960s VisionSlide 4 of 44
A 1960s VisionThis early concept for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory shows one possible design of the military space station during its initial development.
Designers would eventually streamline the project to fit on a Titan rocket and be serviced by astronauts on Gemini space capsules.
Up next: A Closer Look at MOLSlide 5 of 44
A Closer Look at MOLSlide 6 of 44
A Closer Look at MOLThe U.S. military's Manned Orbiting Laboratory was planned in the 1960s but never realized. Here's a breakdown of what the military spy space station would have entailed. See how the Gemini-based manned spy satellite would have worked here.
Up next: Precise machiningSlide 7 of 44
Precise machiningSlide 8 of 44