USAF MOL Group 1

Pilot Astronauts

November, 1965

Adams, Michael J. (Air Force)

Crews, Albert H., Jr. (Air Force)

Finley, John L. (Navy)

Lawyer, Richard E. (Air Force)

Macleay, Lachlan (Air Force)

Neubeck, Francis G. (Air Force)

Taylor, James M. (Air Force)

Truly, Richard H. (Navy)

USAF MOL Group 1 Background

By Cliff Lethbridge

Just as they had attempted to develop the first U.S. space plane in the X-20 “Dyna-Soar”, the Air Force also attempted to develop the first U.S. space station, called the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL). Like the X-20 before it, MOL was never destined to fly.

Feasibility studies for MOL began in 1960, and the program was officially acknowledged by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on December 10, 1963. Ironically, this was the same day that McNamara officially axed the X-20 “Dyna-Soar” program.

Air Force plans called for MOL to be launched and operational by 1971, with overall development assigned to McDonnell Douglas. MOL was envisioned as a laboratory module about 14 feet long by 10 feet in diameter. The laboratory module would provide a crew of two astronauts with a shirt-sleeve working environment.

The laboratory was to be attached to an unpressurized equipment module that would house necessary support hardware. The equipment module was designed to be accessed by the MOL astronauts as they wore protective spacesuits.

Astronauts were to be ferried to and from the MOL by a modified Gemini capsule called the Gemini-B. The Gemini-B incorporated a hatch in the aft heat shield that would be mated to a crew transfer tunnel on the MOL.

Both the MOL itself and subsequent Gemini-B capsules were to be launched atop modified Titan III boosters called the Titan III-M. Operational MOL missions were to have been launched from Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC-6, or “Slick-6”) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Not only would MOL have resulted in the first U.S. space station, it also would have resulted in the first U.S. manned rocket launches from a location other than Cape Canaveral. Once in orbit, astronauts would have stayed aboard MOL for an average of 30 days.

In addition to carrying out a number of scientific observations, it is quite obvious that astronauts would have taken advantage of the planned MOL polar orbit to carry out spy observations of the Soviet Union. This is one of the reasons the MOL program was shrouded in secrecy during its early development.

Since it involved manned space flight, the MOL program required its share of Pilot Astronauts. Requirements for MOL Pilot Astronauts were quite similar to those of NASA Pilot Astronauts. Candidates were required to be not taller than 6-foot and be born not earlier than December 1, 1931. However, no civilians were permitted to apply.

In addition, MOL Pilot Astronauts were required to be a graduate of a service academy or possess a bachelor’s degree in engineering, natural science, physical science or biological science. All of the MOL Pilot Astronauts eventually selected were graduates of the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

After being selected, the MOL Pilot Astronauts were sent back to the Aerospace Research Pilot School for advanced training specifically suited to the MOL program. From then on, the MOL Pilot Astronauts pursued a training schedule and participated directly in the development of MOL program elements.