Declassified: The NRO’s Abandoned Plans for a Manned Spy Satellite

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The National Reconnaissance Office released Oct. 22 a trove of declassified records —including this silent video and photos below — from the 1960s about a military human spaceflight program.

The Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) would have sent military astronauts to a small space station.

The cover story of MOL was that the U.S. Air Force was testing the “military usefulness” of humans into space, but the real purpose of the program was to operate a reconnaissance satellite for the NRO.

President Nixon cancelled the program in June 1969, before its first flight, because of its increasing costs and the improved performance of unmanned reconnaissance satellites.

The Air Force selected 17 astronauts for MOL before the program’s cancellation. Some MOL astronauts transferred to NASA including Robert Crippen, who flew on the first space shuttle misison in 1981, and Richard Truly, who went on to become NASA administrator.

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