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An Even More Secret Space Program?

From: Jay Nelson <jnelson.nul>
Date: sat, 09 oct 2010 10:40:30 -0600
Archived: Sat, 09 Oct 2010 18:27:35 -0400
Subject: An Even More Secret Space Program?


Listers

Recently, the PBS affiliate in my area has been rebroadcasting
NOVA's "Astrospies" episode repeatedly. I haven't minded. It's a
fascinating story about secret manned orbiting spy satellites -
the USAF Manned Orbiting Laboratory v. the Russian ALMAZ. But
after watching it the third or fourth time, it dawned on me that
the show might contain clues in plain sight to an even _more_
clandestine space program than that of the space spooks.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/astrospies/

The show included a story about Robert H. Lawrence, Jr., a black
military astronaut and one of the best pilots in the AF, who was
killed in a crash while landing. He was in the back seat of an
F-104, teaching steep glide Shuttle approach runs at the Cape to
a rookie who survived.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Henry_Lawrence_Jr

The thing is, this was in late _1967_, almost a year _before_
the very first Space Shuttle design studies were even initiated.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_design_process

And the accident occurred almost exactly 4 years _after_ the
Dyna-Soar space plane had been canceled.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyna-Soar

Since the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program was to use a
modified Gemini capsule anyway, the tragedy makes no sense to
me. Why was their top dude teaching a newbie how to do a
dangerous maneuver that had _no_ place in the program?

(According to Wikipedia, Dyna-Soar might have gotten built (but
how much later?) as something called Blackstar...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackstar_%28spaceplane%29

In any case, Dyna-Soar - or any other spacecraft - could _not_
have docked with the MOL. (I know; I made and played with
plastic models of both back in the day... ;-> ) MOL was to be a
disposable, one-time-use-only space station, built on the not-
unreasonable assumption that having a man looking at things on
the fly would allow them to see interesting things automated
cameras wouldn't spot.

However, everything would be shot on film which would have to be
returned to Earth with them undeveloped at the end of the
mission. And meanwhile, the huge spy camera and the rest would
be simply abandoned to burn up in the atmosphere.

Since they had 14 astronauts in the program, it seems likely
they were probably planning on doing it 6 times or so, too. No
wonder it cost so much - LBJ quoted a figure of $1.5B, Richard
Truly, a MOL astronaut who later became NASA chief, said $3B,
and he should know - but others complained that the budget was
cut every year until Nixon axed the whole thing - so the real
cost must have been ginormous.

Maybe some great intelligence could have come of MOL, but
nothing even remotely timely and with such a huge waste of
material. If that was indeed all there was to the mission, MOL
was indeed a huge boondoggle. If it also was intended for, say,
long-term observation of other things - spotting saucer bases,
stuff in orbit, who knows?

At least the Russians built a reusable station (armed with a
freakin' _cannon_ of all things), and though they also used film
(developed in orbit with all lights off), they could scan it with
a video camera and get results down to Moscow in an hour or so.

In any event much of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program is
still classified. Astronaut Al Crews said they were "to take
pictures and blah, blah, blah, blah". So what other activities
were planned that never were accomplished which _still_ require
secrecy after all this time?

I can't shake the feeling that something funny's been going
on...


Keep looking up,

Jay Nelson



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