The MOL-Men Come Into the Light
By Al Hallonquist
A reunion—and newly declassified pictures—provide more detail
on the military’s secretive space station project of the 1960s.
In the late 1950s, with the Cold War in full swing, U.S. spy agencies thought they had a solution to reconnaissance behind the Iron Curtain. The U-2 could fly at altitudes in excess of 70,000 feet, where it was thought to be unreachable by Soviet aircraft or missiles. This was proven wrong on May 1, 1960, when Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union.
So the U.S. Air Force started making plans for an even higher spy platform—in space. This idea, announced officially on December 10, 1963 as a “single use laboratory” to “prove utility of man in space for military missions,” was called the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, or MOL. Astronauts would ride to their spartan space station in the orbital transportation of the day—a Gemini B capsule based on the one NASA was using to prepare for Apollo moon missions.
MOL was a top-secret program, and was described to the public as a laboratory. In actuality, it was going to be a spy platform with state-of-the-art cameras and other surveillance equipment provided by the National Reconnaissance Organization. But MOL was cancelled before the station was launched, and the small corps of military astronaut-spies was disbanded in 1969.
Much of the information about the project, which was known within the NRO by the code name “Dorian,” has only recently been declassified. […]