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In 1960, the Air Force launched—or attempted to launch—the SAMOS E-5 satellite into orbit. It never went terribly well. The first flight lost control; the second flight made it to space in 1961, while two others suffered additional failures. Famously, the SAMOS-3 mission exploded on the launch pad. You can see that here. Missions 5 through 11 were all successes to a limited extent in the sense that they got to space, but didn’t quite fulfill their mission goals.
“The first possible US military astronaut program was the 1961 SAMOS E-5 spy satellite, which had a pressurized cabin and would have (if it had ever flown a successful mission) returned to Earth with a camera,” McDowell says. “Stupid design for a spy sat, so many of us think it was a back door way to get a USAF equivalent of Mercury up and running. Never got that far as the spy sat flights were all failures.”
Air - Force - Project - Time - Manned
But the Air Force was also ramping up for another project at this time. Known as the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL), it would have been the first space station.
The program was forming parallel to NASA’s own Gemini program, and would have used a modified Gemini capsule to ferry astronauts to and from the MOL. The MOL itself resembled a hollowed-out rocket body with a Gemini attached at the front. The public perception was that it was a military space station, without much detail added. But in reality, it was a spy station, intended to keep watch over Iron Curtain states in the Cold War era from afar.
MOL - Air - Force - Michael - Neufeld
The MOL was “dominated” by the Air Force, Michael Neufeld of the National Air and Space Museum says, but it actually involved members of other branches of the military, including the Army and Navy. In 1966, a test flight was...
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