This documentary investigates the background of a secret 1960s USAF space project named MOL (Manned Orbiting Laboratory) and its Russian counterpart ALMAZ.

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This documentary investigates the background of a secret 1960s USAF space project named MOL (Manned Orbiting Laboratory) and its Russian counterpart ALMAZ.

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12 February 2008 (USA)  »

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The secret American space program
3 May 2011 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Astrospies begins with a mystery: While searching for some keys, some NASA employees find a box in a forgotten storeroom at the Kennedy Space Center with astronaut space suits in a color that did not match anything used by NASA, and with names that did not match any NASA astronauts.

Were they from some secret space program that even NASA didn't know about?

Sort of.

I don't want to give too much away, but the summary sentence on the title page does give a clue: It was a parallel space program run by the Air Force called the MOL, or Manned Orbital Laboratory. It wasn't entirely secret, in that the MOL was reported on in the press in the 1960s; it was an early space station. But its real purpose was a secret.

But no longer. With a little sleuthing, the NASA employees tracked down who these phantom astronauts were -- one was the head of NASA! And the film makers get the Russians who were working on a parallel program to tell all.

Before watching this, I suggest you watch Nova's Sputnik Declassified, a documentary about Project Corona, a secret spy satellite first launched in 1960 that sent back to earth ultra high resolution film in canisters with parachutes attached.

Actually, I remember the discussion about the MOL in the press at the time, but had forgotten all about it until I watched this.

I really, really get annoyed by people, especially foreigners and those too young to remember the space race, who say America never landed on the Moon. First of all, this shows an ignorance of the time line of technology in the 20th century, for the groundwork had been laid in the decades before.

But much about the American space program was secret, especially in the early days of the 1950s and early 1960s. Not all the launches were covered live on television. There would generally be some cover story announced to the press before hand, but then shortly after the launch NASA would say that something had gone wrong, the satellite had gone into the wrong orbit, failed to deploy, did not respond, etc., and the public would see a 10 inch story about another space failure.

I saw several of these stories in the press in the 1960s and early 70s and got suspicious, especially when they were supposed to be space telescopes, in other words, early versions of the Hubble, which kept on failing to work, one after another. It was pretty obvious they were probably just turning these supposed telescopes toward the earth, and they were working just fine, or they would not keep trying to launch them. Similarly, there were cover stories in the press about the MOL. It would be interesting to go back to those news accounts to get sense of public opinion of the project.

Now I know I was right. The Americans had space technology the public did not find out about until decades later. Watch these two documentaries and you will learn about the secret side of the American space program.


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