The Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) was a never-flown mission part of the United States Air Force’s human spaceflight programme. It was created in the Sixties, at the height of the Cold War, as the US and the Soviet Union battled for ultimate supremacy in both the Arms Race and the Space Race. MOL would become a single-use laboratory to replace satellite images, allowing onboard US astronauts to snap images of Soviet advances.
It was announced to the public on December 10, 1963, disguised as an inhabited platform as part of the next step to land the first man on the Moon, but astronauts selected for the programme were later told of their secret reconnaissance mission.
Discovery Channel’s “NASA’s Unexplained Files” revealed how NASA special agent Dan Oakland and security manager Henry Butler accidentally exposed the project in December 2004 when exploring a remote corner of a launch complex at Cape Canaveral.
National Security Analyst Tom Nichols said in 2016: “You might think that a NASA launch facility is perfectly organised, but there are miles and miles of corridors.
“They finally found a way into this room and it was dark empty, full of rats.
“But there was one box and it contains two pristine condition space suits.
“They were similar to ones worn in the Sixties, but they were blue, which was not used in the US space programme.
“They’re not from Mercury, they’re not from Gemini, and definitely not from Apollo and they only have two codes on them, 007 and 008.”
The narrator explained how the identity of one of the NASA spies was obtained.
He said: “The suit’s numbering also does not match with any known NASA programme.
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It added: “The programme used 144 satellites to spy on America’s, but despite initial success, Corona’s limited camera technology means it is ultimately viewed as a failure.
“Bamford believes the suits were used in a programme that replaced Corona, called The Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL).
“Like something from James Bond, MOL was an orbiting craft to deploy spies in space.
“Spies on board the £3billion watchtower would intercept Soviet satellites and take high-resolution images of enemy installations.
“The programme used one of NASA’s Gemini spacecraft to launch spies into orbit and rendezvous with MOL.”
However, the spies never went to space.
The series explained: “On November 3, 1966, NASA launched a prototype spy station on behalf of the Air Force.
“But after one test, the MOL programme was shut down, as advances in satellite technology made the theory redundant.
“MOL programme documents indicate spy 008 Richard Lawyer returned to the US Air Force, but some of the other names later appear in NASA records.
“Among the pilots, one name stands out, Richard Truly, who went on to become the NASA administrator.”