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  2/12: NOVA (PBS) Astrospies

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Author Topic:   2/12: NOVA (PBS) Astrospies
Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-31-2008 02:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NOVA release
NOVA reveals untold story of "Astrospies"
Tuesday, February 12 at 8pm ET/PT on PBS

quote:
Millions remember the countdowns, launches, splashdowns, and parades as the U.S. raced the Soviet Union to the moon in the 1960s. Few know that both superpowers ran parallel covert space programs to launch military astronauts on spying missions, and even fewer know what became of the military astronauts they trained. Highly classified for decades, these top-secret missions might easily have triggered a shooting war in orbit. NOVA travels to Russia for exclusive access to cosmonauts and their restricted space facility and obtains candid first-time interviews with astronauts in the American military space program in Astrospies, airing Tuesday, February 12 at 8pm ET/PT on PBS (check local listings).

Coproduced by investigative journalist James Bamford, acclaimed best-selling author of The Puzzle Palace and Body of Secrets, and Emmy Award-winning producer Scott Willis, Astrospies uncovers new clues about the tensest period of the Cold War, when the U.S. and USSR were on the verge of war and desperate for intelligence on each other's nuclear capabilities.

In the U.S., the Air Force-run program was officially known as the Manned Orbiting Laboratory. The public was informed only that the project involved placing military astronauts in space to conduct scientific research. But in reality, as the MOL pilots themselves tell NOVA for the first time, their actual mission was far different.

In fact, MOL was designed to be an orbiting spy station, with two astronauts operating an array of intelligence-gathering instruments, including a telescope capable of resolving objects on the ground as small as three inches. In never-before-seen footage, NOVA shows a mock-up of MOL's interior as well as astronauts training for different phases of the mission.

NOVA also interviews several of the unsung MOL astronauts, who speak openly for the first time about their years of training for the classified program. Although virtually unknown at the time, many in the MOL program went on to distinguished careers. A number flew aboard the space shuttle, including Henry "Hank" Hartsfield, who served as a shuttle pilot and spacecraft commander. Richard Truly, another MOL veteran and shuttle astronaut, went on to become Administrator of NASA. Robert Herres served as the first Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And James Abrahamson headed President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as the "Star Wars" antimissile system.

So secret was MOL that much of the information surrounding it is still classified, and astronauts are even reluctant to talk about it today. "We did have a joke in the program," reminisces Richard Truly, "that one day, there was going to be a little article back on page 50 of a newspaper that said, 'an unidentified spacecraft launched from an unidentified launch pad with unidentified astronauts to do an unidentified mission.' That's the way it was."

Not to be outwitted, the Soviets guessed the hidden purpose of MOL and designed a similar manned spy station called Almaz, three of which were launched in the 1970s. NOVA was given unprecedented access to a restricted Russian space facility, where a cosmonaut demonstrates the reconnaissance systems on a fully intact, never-launched Almaz ship.

With a cannon designed to destroy hostile satellites--or attack American astrospies--Almaz may have been the only manned spacecraft ever equipped for space war. And when the cannon was test-fired, it marked the first shot on a potential battlefield of the future.

Now in its 35th year of broadcasting, NOVA is produced for PBS by the WGBH Science Unit at WGBH Boston. The director of the WGBH Science Unit and senior executive producer of NOVA is Paula S. Apsell. Funding for NOVA is provided by David H. Koch, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and public television viewers.

NOVA is closed captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers and described for people who are blind or visually impaired by the Media Access Group at WGBH. The descriptive narration is available on the SAP channel or stereo TV and VCRs. Astrospies will be available on DVD wherever videos are sold. To order direct from WGBH Boston Video, visit shop.wgbh.org or call 800.949.8670.


Lunar rock nut
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posted 01-31-2008 06:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lunar rock nut   Click Here to Email Lunar rock nut     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Watched the preview and it looks exciting. I like cold war era James Bond spy thriller material like this. Looking forward to this.

Thanks for the heads-up!

Terry

Jay Chladek
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posted 02-02-2008 08:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That footage of the zero gee training in the MOL mockup was interesting to watch. Imagine the logistics of cramming two astronauts and a mockup into a cargo plane to fly parabolas and have one guy pop the hatch to float through a docking tunnel in a 30 second period. And you thought Ron Howard's crew had it bad when they did similar stuff in Apollo 13. Whew.

I'm setting my VCR for this (and ordering a DVD).

It will be interesting to see what has been uncovered from Almaz as the Cosmonauts involved in that program are still as tight lipped as ever about it. Unlike MOL, Almaz at least got off the ground.

tegwilym
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posted 02-02-2008 09:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tegwilym   Click Here to Email tegwilym     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Looks like a good one!

I've been working on building a MythTV media computer and have most of it working now. I've been testing it and tweaking things on it and got it running pretty well now.
Great for taping space stuff and watching without commercials!

Tom

spacecraft films
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posted 02-03-2008 09:22 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for spacecraft films   Click Here to Email spacecraft films     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That whole reel of the zero g training is on our "Man In Space" DVD. If that is the "never-before-seen-footage" we released it almost a year ago.

Mark

John Charles
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posted 02-03-2008 03:04 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for John Charles     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by spacecraft films:
That whole reel of the zero g training is on our "Man In Space" DVD.
Yes, and I have enjoyed watching all of it (the mark of a true space history nerd). The MOL 0-g footage really illustrates the limitations of parabolic flights for procedures training -- very short, and not very smooth.

------------------
John Charles
Houston, Texas

Robert Pearlman
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posted 02-09-2008 09:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There will be a special live broadcast of The Space Show today at 10 a.m. PST. The program will feature Jim Bamford, coproducer of NOVA's Astrospies.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 02-12-2008 09:06 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Tune-in reminder: Astrospies airs tonight on NOVA.

biker123
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posted 02-12-2008 10:19 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for biker123   Click Here to Email biker123     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That teaser story about the broadcast really got my heart pumping, and for a minute I thought maybe I'd been asleep at the wheel for the past 40 some years.

After doing some checking it seems to me that the most remarkable thing about the MOL program is that they were able to keep it a secret for a while. IMHO

Brian R.

David L. Rickman
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posted 02-12-2008 11:42 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for David L. Rickman   Click Here to Email David L. Rickman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There is a clip about the Almaz on this program on YouTube...

I hope this isn't the Almaz station they are talking about. It's nowhere near "fully intact" and hardly super-secret or exclusive. Pretty much anyone with a visa and $300 can tour this station.

While I hope to learn even a tid-bit of information that hasn't already been published, I think that there will be more damage control for misinformation than new information. I hope I'm wrong, but based on what I've seen and read about this program... I'm not holding my breath.

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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posted 02-12-2008 02:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by biker123:
After doing some checking it seems to me that the most remarkable thing about the MOL program is that they were able to keep it a secret for a while.
In my experience, not so remarkable. Servicemen participating in the D-Day exercise called Operation Tiger, which ended in disaster, were told to keep it secret. And they did, for about 45 years, until the late-80s....

biker123
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posted 02-12-2008 04:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for biker123   Click Here to Email biker123     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My use of the word "remarkable" was to emphasize that there was nothing otherwise noteworthy about the MOL Program. That NOVA teaser, if you didn't already know better, strongly implies that these guys actually may have flown those "secret" missions.

Brian R.

rocketJoe
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posted 02-12-2008 08:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for rocketJoe   Click Here to Email rocketJoe     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Just saw the episode and I thought it was well done. I really appreciated the interviews with the MOL astronaut candidates.

One thing that I disagreed with was the episode summary. In a nutshell, it implied that the military space race was a wash since unmanned satellites eventually proved their worth. However, during the time when the Russian Almaz space station was operational, that would have been a heck of an asset if a crisis had occurred (assuming the power stayed on). Sure hindsight is 20/20, but the capability to scramble a crew to a functional "spy-station" during the 70s cold war would have certainly been an advantage.

David L. Rickman
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posted 02-12-2008 08:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for David L. Rickman   Click Here to Email David L. Rickman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I just finished watching NOVA's "Astrospies". There was only about 15 seconds of footage that was new to me, but about 5 seconds of it is REALLY GOOD. Finally got to see an Almaz solar panel unfolding. But, I can't believe they described NPO Mash as a secret facility which foreigners are not allowed to visit. If I had a dime for every foreigner I personally know who has been there ...

All in all it was a good and mostly accurate program. It was nice to finally see the face of Asif Siddiqi. For those interested in more Almaz I highly recommend Tainy "Almaza", Secretnyj_konstruktor, and Vojna kosmicheskikh ambicij.

Best Regards,

David L. Rickman

John Charles
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posted 02-12-2008 10:04 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for John Charles     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I, too, watched Astrospies on Nova tonight (Feb. 12). Overall an enlightening and entertaining story, especially for newcomers to space history.

Of course, no such program can escape the historical nitpickers (like me). I wish they hadn't used a cut-away of a S-IVB workshop when describing the military space station. I cringed when the script said Jim Bamford had to use Richard Lawyer to learn who the other MOL pilots were -- after showing him referring to the list of MOL pilots. The program also did Jim no favors by suggesting that he (and other of us space-wise history buffs) wouldn't have immediately recognized both the nametag reading "Lawyer" and the suit it was attached to as MOL-related.

But I especially enjoyed the underwater EVA/IVA scenes. I have been searching for info on MOL underwater training, and "Astrospies" gave me pictures and leads for searching.

The Russian underwater scenes looked like they were actually from the Hydrolab at Star City, which was opened in Jan. 1980. Besides "Astrospies," is there evidence that the Soviets did underwater training before 1980 (i.e., 4 years after the last Almaz spy flight)?

All in all, an enjoyable and illuminating program.

------------------
John Charles
Houston, Texas

Robert Pearlman
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posted 02-12-2008 10:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Just in case anyone missed it, the entire program will be online at NOVA's website tomorrow.

I generally enjoyed it, primarily for the interviews. I could have done without some of the introductory material about Bamford, which made him come across more as uniformed than as astute researcher they tried to paint him as, but I suppose that's a minor quibble.

That said, I had to grin when they said that Bamford's impetus was an article about the Lawyer spacesuit on a space website. It might very well have been collectSPACE (or a syndicated version of the same article).

FFrench
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posted 02-12-2008 11:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
For a TV documentary, I thought that was really a good show - far less sensationalism and outright mistakes than we usually see. Nice to see so much Russian stuff in there. And possibly the best filmed tribute to Bob Lawrence that I can recall, too...

Lunar rock nut
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posted 02-13-2008 06:15 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lunar rock nut   Click Here to Email Lunar rock nut     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
What I found enlightening was the information on early optical resolution of the cameras they were using. Impressive R&D behind all of the media attention devoted to the apollo program. Resolving the face of a playing card from 100 miles and stabilizing the image was quite a feat and a giant leap for photography during that time period.

Terry

David L. Rickman
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posted 02-13-2008 06:30 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for David L. Rickman   Click Here to Email David L. Rickman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by John Charles:
The Russian underwater scenes looked like they were actually from the Hydrolab at Star City, which was opened in Jan. 1980. Besides "Astrospies," is there evidence that the Soviets did underwater training before 1980 (i.e., 4 years after the last Almaz spy flight)?
I don't know when or where this image was taken, but I can say it was DEFINITELY Almaz training of the KSI capsule loading for return to Earth. You can clearly see them handling the KSI, the round frame representing the airlock section of Almaz with the round section at the top being the hatch for spacewalks.

David L. Rickman

dom
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posted 02-13-2008 12:04 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dom   Click Here to Email dom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Unfortunatety non-US viewers are blocked from seeing the programme when they click onto the PBS website.

Does anyone else know if it might be making an appearance on YouTube or somewhere else soon...let me know if you see it posted anywhere else soon!

David L. Rickman
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posted 02-13-2008 01:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for David L. Rickman   Click Here to Email David L. Rickman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
While I am not an expert on the U. S. Air Force's MOL project, I do know enough about it to realize that James Bamford's "Astrospies" (aired on NOVA 12 Feb) failed to give a fair balance between the Soviet and American manned "spy-station" programs. He compared the full potential of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory to a grossly scaled back Almaz program. In fact, Almaz was misrepresented a number of times during this broadcast.

Mr. Bamford begins his "revelation" of the mysterious Manned Orbiting Laboratory with the discovery of a pair of blue spacesuits and their connection to a list of mysterious Air Force astronauts. He goes on to find and interview the still living astronauts on this list. He then attempts balances this program by revealing a portion of the Soviet Almaz program and interviewing pilots of the Almaz stations flown as Salyut stations.

In fairness, Mr. Bamford should have balanced this list of American Military Astronauts with the Almaz Cosmonauts of Chelomei's OKB-52 Design Bureau. This secret group of cosmonauts, chosen in 1966, were trained to fly the "real" Almaz station, which just like MOL, would have been launched topped with a manned capsule. But unlike MOL, there would have been additional manned TKS modules launched to join with, and enlarge the station. While he did touch lightly on this, his focus was more on the Almaz program scaled back AFTER the MOL program was canceled.

OPS-4 was also misrepresented as a fully intact un-launched Almaz station. Chelomei's original intent was to launch OPS-4 as the first true Almaz station, equipped with it's own manned capsule and a TKS docking port. This station would also have a Mech-K Synthetic Aperture Radar replacing the AGAT camera, the advantage being that this system, while lower in resolution, could see through clouds and ocean waters. It would also have a new Shchit-2 space to space missile system (for defense, of course), Orlan Suits, and a new broadcast antenna similar to Mir's Altair system. It was later scaled "back" (or "forward" depending on your point of view) to an unmanned version equipped with two TKS docking ports. AT some point communication, SAR, and rendezvous systems were removed from the OPS-4, possibly for use with other stations. It's unclear whether the Shchit-2 system was ever constructed and attached to the station.

Only by seeing the full potential of the Almaz program can we appreciate the scale at which it was cut back. And by failing to show this, James Bamford failed in his attempt to show the real story of the "Astrospies".

David L. Rickman

spaceman1953
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posted 02-13-2008 03:02 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for spaceman1953   Click Here to Email spaceman1953     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well, I missed the tip about this program, but thanks to my most wonderful employer, I was trolling TV stations last night and caught it... slipped in a tape, missing the introduction only, and had a thoroughly enjoyable hour!

I was one that had NOT heard of Almaz... did that "cannon" violate peaceful uses of outer space treaties?

Of course, most of what they aired about MOL was not news to me, having lived through that time... and I think that Mike Collins can be seen in the back row of one of the group training classes?

And I assumed that the "space website" that discussed the suits found at the Cape was indeed, our beloved collectSPACE!

Gene

moonrock collector
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posted 02-13-2008 06:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for moonrock collector   Click Here to Email moonrock collector     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I too saw the NOVA program and found it very interesting.

David L. Rickman
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posted 02-13-2008 09:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for David L. Rickman   Click Here to Email David L. Rickman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by spaceman1953:
I was one that had NOT heard of Almaz... did that "cannon" violate peaceful uses of outer space treaties?
No. At this point so called "Space Treaties" were only concerned with restricting Nuclear Arms or Weapons of Mass Destruction from being launched from Orbital platforms.

And I too recognized Mike Collins in the back of the classroom!

David L. Rickman

John Charles
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posted 02-13-2008 11:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for John Charles     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by spaceman1953:
...and I think that Mike Collins can be seen in the back row of one of the group training classes?
Yes, that was Mike Collins, acting distracted and rubbing his face, sitting behind an attentive Joe Engle. Ted Freeman and Charlie Bassett were in another ARPS classroom scene.

[edited by JBC on Feb. 15 to correct mis-identification of Engle and Freeman.]

------------------
John Charles
Houston, Texas

David L. Rickman
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posted 02-15-2008 07:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for David L. Rickman   Click Here to Email David L. Rickman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by John Charles:
The Russian underwater scenes looked like they were actually from the Hydrolab at Star City, which was opened in Jan. 1980. Besides "Astrospies," is there evidence that the Soviets did underwater training before 1980 (i.e., 4 years after the last Almaz spy flight)?
Yes, a special Orlan fitted with weights to provide neutral buoyancy was tested in a hydrolab in 1968.

Regards,

David L. Rickman

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