Manned Orbiting Laboratory Spacecraft
This spacecraft was built for the U.S. Air Force’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program, a top-secret effort to take extremely detailed reconnaissance photographs of Cold War adversaries’ territory from space. The MOL program planned to use astronauts to operate cameras and evaluate the usefulness of humans in space. Gemini B was a modified version of the two-man Gemini spacecraft that carried NASA astronauts into orbit on ten flights during 1965-66.
Gemini B looks very similar to other Gemini vehicles, but it has important differences. The easiest to see is the circular hatch leading from the crew compartment through the heat shield in the rear of the vehicle. This hatch led to a tunnel connecting the craft with the 19-foot-long Manned Orbiting Laboratory module where the crewmen would live and control reconnaissance cameras. MOL missions were to last up to 30 days. The crew would use the Gemini B vehicle only for launch and re-entry.
MOL missions were to be launched from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., into orbits over the north and south poles. These polar orbits ensured the best photo coverage of the Soviet Union, China and other locations.
The MOL program began in 1963 but was canceled in 1969 for budgetary and political reasons before any manned missions were launched. Seventeen military pilots -- 13 of them USAF Airmen -- trained to be MOL crewmen.
The Gemini B is on loan from the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Weight: Approx. 6,000 lbs.
Interior: Approx. 90 cubic feet
Launch vehicle: Titan IIIM
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