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  Space Cover 203: Before Skylab and Mir - MOL

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Author Topic:   Space Cover 203: Before Skylab and Mir - MOL

Posts: 164
From: millersville, maryland, usa
Registered: Jul 2004

posted 03-03-2013 06:18 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for stevedd841   Click Here to Email stevedd841     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Space Cover of the Week, Week 203 (March 3, 2013)

A U.S. Air Force artist paints what the Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) and its Gemini B manned spacecraft will look like in Earth orbit, in a stunning new program. The ambitious Air Force manned spaceflight program had evolved practically overnight as a successor to the recently cancelled Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar space program. The artist's depiction of MOL and its Gemini B spacecraft is shown courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

Space Cover #203: Before Skylab and Mir — MOL

With the loss of funding for the Dyna-Soar program, the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program had emerged as a new program, with a single use space laboratory combined with a Gemini B spacecraft for return to Earth after completion of a 40 day operational mission. Astronauts for the new program would be drawn from both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy.

The MOL program was announced to the public on December 10, 1963, with an overriding priority to prove a mission in space existed for military specific missions. Later, the astronauts were informed there was also a reconnaissance mission for the program. A MOL crew would use large optical equipment, cameras suited to the mission, side-looking radar, and video transmission of images back to Earth for their work.

The Gemini B spacecraft was very similar to NASA's Gemini spacecraft only on its exterior; inside, it had undergone significant modifications and was a completely new spacecraft. One important modification was the addition of a circular hatch in the center of the heat shield to facilitate movement of crew members from the spacecraft to the space laboratory and back.

The program planned an initial mock MOL flight reusing NASA's previously flown Gemini 2 spacecraft and powering a mock MOL laboratory fashioned from a USAF Titan II propellant tank. The actual MOL would use a helium-oxygen environment with a Gemini B spacecraft as the space vehicle.

The first crew of the MOL was designated as astronaut Mike Adams and Albert Crews, but neither military officer would fly in the program. Adams was unfortunately killed in a tragic X-15 crash November 15, 1967, and Albert Crews transferred to NASA's Flight Crew Directorate in 1969 to pilot NASA aircraft including the oversize jet, "Super Guppy."

Clyde Sarzin's cachet on the cover above uses the Air Force's artwork showing the mock MOL mission 50 nautical miles above the Earth. Eight minutes earlier, the mock MOL and Gemini 2 spacecraft were poised on a Titan IIIC-9 rocket and thundered away from Launch Complex-40, at 8:51 am EST, November 3, 1966, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

At this point in its 33 minute spaceflight, the Gemini 2 spacecraft separated from the mock laboratory at the 50 nm mark and began its ballistic reentry back to Earth. During reentry, the spacecraft's heat shield hatch and the heat shield to be used for MOL also were tested and evaluated. Released from the Gemini 2 spacecraft, the mock MOL laboratory continued to 100 nautical miles into orbit, releasing three satellites into space as its part of the mission.

The Gemini 2 spacecraft splashed down near Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean, and was recovered by the USS La Salle, LPD-3, the primary recovery ship for the mock MOL mission. Two additional secondary Navy recovery ships participated in the spacecraft's recovery, USS Aucilla, AO-56, and USS Fort Snelling, LSD-30.

For ship cover collectors, these three recovery ship covers for the mock MOL mission are among the most difficult to find for recovery ships of the U.S. space program.

Unfortunately, while the mock mission had gone exceedingly well, program costs had escalated from $1.5 billion to $3 billion with a first operational spaceflight still 3 years away in spite of the success of the mock MOL. At the same time, new advances in unmanned satellite reconnaissance missions could meet or exceed the capabilities of 2 unmanned and 5 future manned MOL flights.

The Department of Defense's Joint Chiefs of Staff, the head of the CIA, and the U.S. Bureau of the Budget, recommended that MOL be cancelled. National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, and President, Richard Nixon, concurred in their recommendation and ended the program. Space station work would have to be pursued further by NASA in the Apollo program with Skylab.

The scan above shows the USS La Salle, LPD-3, underway in the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast of the United States. In gold lettering in the lower center of the ship's postcard is the notation, "Titan IIIC - Test Prime Recovery Ship."

With the ending of the MOL program, 7 of the 14 MOL astronauts would transition to NASA's space shuttle program and all of these astronauts would fly operational space shuttle missions: Dick Truly, Bo Bobko, Bob Crippen, Gordon Fullerton, Hank Hartsfield, Robert Overmyer, and Don Peterson. The first of these MOL astronauts, Dick Truly, also would take the conn as NASA Administrator.

Steve Durst, SU 4379


Posts: 961
Registered: Aug 2002

posted 03-03-2013 11:11 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for MarylandSpace   Click Here to Email MarylandSpace     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you Steve for a great history lesson today. You have expanded my space horizons and knowledge.


Posts: 164
From: millersville, maryland, usa
Registered: Jul 2004

posted 03-03-2013 01:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for stevedd841   Click Here to Email stevedd841     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Maryland Space, appreciate your comments and am somewhat surprised that this story about MOL and Gemini B has faded so quickly from space collectors' memories. In my research prior to writing the article, I discovered that no less a major NASA player than Deke Slayton, Director of Flight Crew Operations, had discussed MOL astronauts performing humint intelligence by inspecting other nation's satellites in space. The launch base for MOL was planned to be at Vandenberg AFB's South Base, California, at a new staging area, Space Launch Complex-6 (SLC-6), so an entire military space effort outside of NASA was in progress. Most of this material I'm sure was highly classified at the time. It has become known to the general public now with the passing of time and expiration of the classified body of knowledge that existed at the high water mark of this military program.

Am providing a Space Craft Cover (SCC) cover for the launch of the unmanned mock MOL mission, November 3, 1966, but signed by the second MOL group of astronauts. Thought you and the other SCOTW readers might want to see it. If other readers have a signed MOL group 1 astronaut cover, or a MOL group 3 cover, I would be very willing to post scans. Many thanks for your response.


Posts: 1239
From: Washington, DC, USA
Registered: Apr 2003

posted 03-03-2013 06:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for micropooz   Click Here to Email micropooz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Great subject, Steve! MOL is another one of those fascinating "what-ifs" of the early space program.

Interesting to note that the December 10, 1963 MOL first-mention-to-the-public was also the cancellation announcement for another great "what-if", Dyna-Soar. During the announcement, Secretary of Defense McNamara stated that funds leftover from the cancellation of Dyna-Soar would go towards MOL, then gave more details of MOL.

On August 25, 1965, President Johnson announced that he had formally approved the MOL Program. That announcement hit the newspapers the next day. Clyde Sarzin produced a cover for that announcement, postmarked August 26, 1965, at his local Post Office, Port Washington, NY (below).

Ken Havekotte

Posts: 1823
From: Merritt Island, Florida, Brevard
Registered: Mar 2001

posted 03-03-2013 06:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ken Havekotte   Click Here to Email Ken Havekotte     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
America's first-conceived manned orbiting laboratory, or space station, was going to be an enormous and costly undertaking throughout the 1960s by the Department of Defense (Air Force and Navy).

The MOL was to be equipped to accommodate two men in orbit up to 30 days. Altogether in three separate groups, there were a total of 17 astronauts chosen for the program from 1965-67. All of these men were military test pilots and graduates of the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards AFB, CA.

But was anyone seen, or better yet "own," a cover or photo signed by all 17? With my own collections in this unique area, I've only been able to assemble items signed by not more than 7-10 pilots on a single item.

Of course, the most difficult to acquire of the MOL astronaut-pilots would have to be Mike Adams, Robert Lawrence, and James Taylor.

But during my younger autograph collecting days (1970s), I remember writing many times to Albert Crews requesting his signature on a cover, photo, letter, etc. for my ever-expanding MOL collection.

Much to my surprise, though, after a few repeated attempts months apart from each other, never did I get a reply back from him. Has anyone else, if they can recall that far back, have any success with Col. Crews?


Posts: 164
From: millersville, maryland, usa
Registered: Jul 2004

posted 03-05-2013 03:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for stevedd841   Click Here to Email stevedd841     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Another great Sarzin cover is shown above by Dennis for the MOL program's approval by President Lyndon Johnson. While Port Washington is not the best cancel to have for this event, it is the only such cover I have seen for the program's approval. And, there is also an excellent addition to the MOL thread submitted by Ken. Ken, enjoyed your experiences tracking the MOL astronauts down in the classified USAF MOL program to obtain the astronaut's autographs.

The following MOL astronauts, Mike Adams (died in X-15 crash 1967), Albert Crews (unresponsive to autograph requests as early as 1970's), Robert Lawrence (died in training accident 1967, and James Taylor (died in training accident with student 1970) are the toughest autographs to find on anything for the program. Unfortunately, the MOL program had other problems. MOL was identified for cancellation due to increasing military expenses to fund the expanding war in Vietnam and also became a victim to increasing unmanned satellite technology advances in satellite intelligence gathering. The 14 hour manned operational time on orbit per manned MOL mission was also a serious problem that could not be overcome. Thanks Dennis and Ken for your additions to the thread. I am also including a great autographed cover for the mock MOL mission from the space cover collection of David Ball. See the scan that follows:

The MOL astronauts shown on this cover are, from top to bottom, Gordon Fullerton, Robert Herres, Jack Abrahamson, Jack Finley, Karol Bobko, Richard Truly, Dick Lawyer, and Greg Neubeck. Many thanks, David, for the scan of this great MOL astronaut signed cover from your space cover collection!

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