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Manned Orbiting Laboratory

When the Dyna-Soar program was cancelled in December 1963, the Air Force continued its efforts to develop a capability for manned space operations. In the spring of 1964, the USAF began work on the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL), an evolution of the earlier "Blue Gemini" program, which was conceived to be an all-Air Force parallel of NASA's Gemini efforts.

The MOL was to incorporate a modified Gemini capsule attached to a cylindrical laboratory and launched as one unit by a Titan IIIC booster. Like the Dyna-Soar (X-20) program, the MOL never reached fruition, but a great deal of developmental work was accomplished before it too was cancelled in June of 1969. Over the life of the program, three groups of armed forces officers were selected for training as MOL crew members. Seven moved into the NASA manned space program at the termination of the MOL program.

The model on display in the museum illustrates the configuration proposed for the MOL. The crew of two rode through lift off in the modified Gemini capsule at the top of the spacecraft, and once in orbit entered the attached laboratory module. Flight duration was planned to be two to four weeks, after which the capsule was to be detached to reenter the earth's atmosphere for landing. The MOL itself remained in orbit for later reuse. 

Behind the Gemini capsule is the adapter section/laboratory interface followed by the forward compartment which contained a transfer tunnel, and fuel cells. Further to the rear is the laboratory itself, divided into work and living compartments. The last section in the equipment module containing tanks of breathing gases.

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Find Out More
MOL Astronauts: "The Dorian Files Revealed: The Manned Orbiting Laboratory Crew Members’ Secret Mission in Space" (01:39:46)