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Other Designations: Manned Orbiting Laboratory. Class: Manned. Type: Space Station. Nation: USA. Agency: U.S. Air Force. Manufacturer: Douglas.

MOL (Manned Orbiting Laboratory) was the US Air Force's manned space project after Dynasoar was cancelled, until it in turn was cancelled in 1969. The earth orbit station used a helium-oxygen atmosphere, a Gemini capsule accomodating a crew of two for ascent and reentry, and the Gemini retrofire package to return the crew to earth. MOL normally would have remained attached to the Titan III transtage, which would provide it up to 760 m/sec of maneuver capability. Experiments planned ranged the gamut from military reconnaisance using large optical cameras and side-looking radar, through interception and inspection of satellites, to exploring the usefulness of man in space and test of Manned Maneuvering Units. After cancellation, some of the reconnaisance systems ended up in later KH series sattelites, and some of the manned experiements were accomplished on Skylab.


Craft.Crew Size: 2. Design Life: 40 days. Orbital Storage: 40.00 days. Total Length: 12.7 m. Maximum Diameter: 3.0 m. Total Habitable Volume: 11.30 m3. Total Mass: 8,620 kg. Total Payload: 2,700 kg. Total Propellants: 100 kg. Main Engine Propellants: Solid. Main Engine Isp: 255 sec. Total spacecraft delta v: 101 m/s. Electric system: 2.00 total average kW. Electric System: 2,000.00 total kWh. Electrical System: Fuel cells / solar panels.

MOL Chronology

22 June 1959 Preliminary design of a two-man space laboratory. Program: Gemini.

H. Kurt Strass of Space Task Group's Flight Systems Division (FSD) recommended the establishment of a committee to consider the preliminary design of a two-man space laboratory. Representatives from each of the specialist groups within FSD would work with a special projects group, the work to culminate in a set of design specifications for the two-man Mercury.

23 May 1962 Avco proposal for a space station. Launch Vehicle: Titan 2.

Representatives from Avco Manufacturing Corporation made a presentation to MSC on a proposal for a space station. Prime purpose of the station, company spokesmen said, was to determine the effects of zero-g on the crew's ability to stand reentry and thus fix the limit that man could safely remain in orbit. Avco's proposed station design comprised three separate tubes about 3 m in diameter and 6 m long, launched separately aboard Titan IIs and joined in a triangular shape in orbit. A standard Gemini spacecraft was to serve as ferry vehicle.

MOLMOL - MOL as it actually would have appeared in space

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10 December 1963 McNamara announces MOL start/Dynasoar cancellation Program: MOL. Launch Vehicle: Titan 3C.

McNamara announces start of MOL, cancellation of Dynasoar.

19 December 1963 NASA position on the Defense Department's Manned Orbiting Laboratory project.

NASA Hq advised the centers regarding the agency's official position vis-a-vis the Defense Department's Manned Orbiting Laboratory project. Both NASA and DOD viewed MOL as a project designed to fulfill immediate military requirements. The project could not be construed as meeting the much broader objectives and goals of a national space station program being studied by both organizations under post-Apollo research and development program policy agreements between NASA Administrator James E. Webb and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara (dated 14 September 1963).

31 December 1963 NASA/USAF discussions on MOL joint control and support.

MSC Director Robert R. Gilruth apprised George E. Mueller, Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight, of recent discussions with officers from the Air Force's Space Systems Division regarding MSC's joint participation in the MOL project in the area of operational control and support. Such joint cooperation might comprise two separate areas: manning requirements for the control center and staffing of actual facilities. Gilruth suggested that such joint cooperation would work to the benefit of both organizations involved. Furthermore, because a number of unidentified problems inevitably existed, he recommended the creation of a joint NASA Air Force group to study the entire question so that such uncertainties might be identified and resolved.

Manned Orbiting LabManned Orbiting Lab - Manned Orbiting Laboratory

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01 January 1964 Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory and NASA's Manned Orbiting Research Laboratory studied.

In the wake of the Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory project and the likelihood of NASA's undertaking some type of manned orbiting research laboratory, Director of Advanced Manned Missions Studies Edward Z. Gray sought to achieve within NASA a better understanding of the utility of such projects as a base for experiments in space. Accordingly, he created three separate working groups to deal with possible experiments in three separate categories: (l) big-medical, (2) scientific, and (3) engineering.

10 January 1964 Manned Orbiting Laboratory "an ominous harbinger...".

James J. Haggerty, Jr., Space Editor for the Army-Navy-Air Force Journal and Register, called the assignment of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory to the Department of Defense 'an ominous harbinger of a reversal in trend, an indication that the military services may play a more prominent role in future space exploration at NASA's expense.... Whether you label it development platform, satellite platform, satellite or laboratory, it is clearly intended as a beginning for space station technology. It is also clearly the intent of this administration that, at least in the initial stages, space station development shall be under military rather than civil cognizance....'

MOL Full SizeMOL Full Size

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05 June 1964 Three firms received authorization to begin work on space station studies. Launch Vehicle: Titan 3C.

Secretary of the Air Force Eugene M. Zuckert announced that three firms, Douglas Aircraft Company, General Electric Company, and The Martin Company, had received authorization to begin work on space station studies. Zuckert predicted also that the Titan III would be test-flown that summer and would launch the Manned Orbiting Laboratory sometime in 1967 or 1968.

07 December 1964 Recommendation that the Air Force's MOL and NASA's Apollo X programs be merged. Program: Apollo X.

In a letter to President Lyndon B. Johnson, Senator Clinton P. Anderson, Chairman of the Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, recommended that the Air Force's MOL and NASA's Apollo X programs be merged. Senator Anderson argued that a jointly operated national space station program would most effectively use the nation's available resources. He claimed that $1 billion could be saved during the next five years if the MOL were canceled and those funds applied to NASA's Apollo-based space station program. Additional Details: Recommendation that the Air Force's MOL and NASA's Apollo X programs be merged..

MOL in flightMOL in flight - MOL in flight over Pacific

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23 January 1965 Department of Defense requesting proposals for design / development of the MOL.

Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara announced that the Department of Defense was requesting proposals from the aerospace industry for design studies to support development of the MOL (especially cost and technical data). Three contractors would be chosen to conduct the studies, a step preliminary to any DOD decision to proceed with full-scale development of the space laboratory.

25 August 1965 President Johnson announced approval for the Department of Defense's $1.5-billion Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL).

At a White House news conference, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced approval for the Department of Defense's development of the $1.5-billion Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL). Such a program, the President said, would bring 'new knowledge about what man is able to do in space.' Further, MOL 'will enable us to relate that ability to the defense of America.'

29 December 1965 NASA support to the Air Force on the MOL summarized.

MOL seen from GeminiMOL seen from Gemini - MOL seen from Gemini over hurricane

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In the initial activity report outlining MSC's support to the Air Force on the MOL, Gemini Program Manager Charles W. Mathews summarized activity to date. He cited receipt on 20 November 1965 of authority to transfer surplus Gemini equipment to the MOL project. Since that time, he said, MSC had delivered to the Air Force several boilerplate test vehicles and a variety of support and handling equipment. MOL program officials and astronauts had also visited Houston for technical discussions and briefings.
12 March 1966 Start of construction (site preparation) for SLC-6 Program: MOL. Launch Site: Vandenberg . Launch Vehicle: Titan 3C.

Start of construction (site preparation) for Space Launch Complex 6 facilities at former Sudden Ranch property.

21 March 1966 House Committee recommended combining NASA's Apollo Applications Program with the Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory. Program: Apollo X.

MOL seen from GeminiMOL seen from Gemini - MOL seen from Gemini over Sinai Peninsula

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A report by the Military Operations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations recommended combining NASA's Apollo Applications Program with the Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory. 'Inasmuch as both programs are still research and development projects without definitive operational missions,' stated the Committee's report, 'there is reason to expect that with earnest efforts both agencies could get together on a joint program incorporating both unique and similar experiments of each agency.'
20 May 1966 Representatives of the Air Force and NASA met at Brooks AFB, Texas, to exchange information on medical experiments planned for the Air Force's MOL project and NASA's AAP.

Stanley White, who headed the USAF group of aerospace medical experts, expressed strong interest in exploiting NASA's AAP project to study the effects of long-duration space flight on human life processes. White stated the Air Force's desire that MOL thus be relieved of this experiment burden so program planners could direct the program more closely toward evaluating man's utility for military space operations. The meeting furnished the basis for closer ties between the two organizations on their biomedical activities, observed NASA's Acting Director of Space Medicine, Jack Bollerud.

MOL in flightMOL in flight - MOL in flight over Sinai Peninsula

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03 November 1966 MOL Mockup Program: MOL. Launch Site: Cape Canaveral . Launch Vehicle: Titan 3C. Mass: 9,680 kg.

This modified Titan 2 propellant tank represented the MOL station itself. It allowed study of the aerodynamic loads associated with launching the MOL into orbit and validated the very long length to diameter core represented by the MOL/Titan 3M configuration. It is possible certain prototype MOL equipment was flown as well.

14 February 1967 MOL major subcontractors selected Program: MOL.

MOL major subcontractors announced by prime contractor Douglas: Republic for the waste management system; Marquardt for 45 kgf and 20 kgf orientation thrusters; IBM for computers; Garrett for ECS; Scientific Data Systems for ground support equipment.

01 March 1967 NASA / USAF MOL Collaboration Program: MOL.

NASA agrees to fly four Deparment of Defense experiments planned for MOL on Apollo Applications mission instead (later Skylab). These included an inflatable airlock experiment. NASA also provided the Gemini 6 capsule to the Air Force for MOL crew training.

MOL early designMOL early design - MOL early design concept

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20 March 1967 MOL project delays, cost growth. Program: MOL.

Weight growth of the MOL station forced the Air Force to consider upgrading of the Titan booster. Stretching of the booster core or use of 156 inch solid rocket motors was considered. The Air Force also dithered as to whether to compete the Titan booster contract. Eight months were spent making the decision, and at the end of it all the first manned MOL flight was delayed to 1970 and the projected total cost increased from $ 1.5 billion to $ 2.2 billion.

02 May 1967 NASA briefing to Manned Orbiting Laboratory staff on fire hazards Program: Apollo.

The Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory Systems Program Office requested that MSC present a briefing to selected office and contractor personnel on NASA's progress in safety studies and tests associated with fire hazards aboard manned space vehicles. Information was requested for the MOL program to help formulate studies and activities that would not duplicate MSC efforts. The briefing was given at MSC May 10.

MOL in flightMOL in flight - MOL in flight over Sinai Peninsula

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01 March 1968 MOL qualification test underway. Program: MOL.

The MOL mockup was completed, static structural test of flight representative assemblies was underway, and major equpment was in qualification test.

10 June 1969 The DOD announced cancellation of its MOL Program.

The program was initiated in 1965 to advance the development of both manned and unmanned defense-oriented space equipment and to ascertain the full extent of man's utility in space for defense purposes. Following MOL termination, NASA requested that the MOL food and diet contract with Whirlpool Corporation and the space suit development contract with Hamilton Standard Division, United Aircraft Corporation, be transferred to NASA.

04 August 1969 Seven astronauts from the defunct MOL project transferred to NASA

Acting on an offer made by the Defense Department to assign a number of astronauts from the defunct MOL project to NASA, Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight George E. Mueller chose seven astronauts to augment MSC's flight crews. They were Karol J. Bobko, Charles G. Fullerton, Henry W. Hartsfield, and Donald H. Peterson (USAF); Richard H. Truly and Robert L. Crippin (USN); and Robert F. Overmyer (USMC). The decision to utilize these individuals, Mueller stated, derived from their extensive training and experience on the MOL project and the important national aspect of future manned space flight programs.

MOL seen from GeminiMOL seen from Gemini - MOL seen from Gemini over Sinai Peninsula

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09 February 1970 Manned Orbiting Laboratory environment conditioning units delivered.

With the termination of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, the Air Force provided MSFC with three environment conditioning units capable of delivering fresh air into a small enclosed space at a desired temperature and humidity. The units would be used during bench checks and troubleshooting on the ATM experiments and the related ground support equipment during storage and the preinstallation period.

01 February 1972 MOL 3 Program: MOL. Flight Crew: Taylor, Crews. Launch Vehicle: Titan 3M.

At the time of the cancellation of the MOL program in June 1969, the first manned mission was planned for early 1972. A crew of two would have spent thirty days in orbit operating sophisticated military reconnaisance equipment and other experiments. Walt Williams told Michael Cassutt that Jim Taylor would have commanded the first MOL flight, and given Williams's background in flight test operations, Mercury. and Gemini, that call was pretty much his at that time. As for the pilot, Al Crews, a holdover from the Dynasoar program, is considered by Cassutt as good a guess as any.

01 November 1972 MOL 4 Program: MOL. Launch Vehicle: Titan 3M.

Planned date of second manned MOL mission at time of the program cancellation.

01 August 1973 MOL 5 Program: MOL. Launch Vehicle: Titan 3M.

Planned date of third manned MOL mission at time of the program cancellation.

01 May 1974 MOL 6 Program: MOL. Flight Crew: Truly, Crippen. Launch Vehicle: Titan 3M.

Planned date of fourth manned MOL mission at time of the program cancellation. From the beginning of the project, the Navy had demanded that this be an all-Navy crew, which would limit the crew to Truly, with either Overmeyer or Crippen as co-pilot.

01 February 1975 MOL 7 Program: MOL. Launch Vehicle: Titan 3M.

Planned date of fifth manned MOL mission. This mission was already deleted from the FY 1970 budget request in April 1969, two months before the entire project was cancelled.


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Last update 12 March 2001.
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