Friday, January 17, 2014


Today on Far Future Horizons we present Astrospies, a NOVA documentary concerning the covert space program of the 1960s. In this documentary, NOVA delves into the untold story of this top-secret space race, which might easily have turned into a shooting war in orbit.

USAF McDonnell Blue Gemini

Millions remember the countdowns, launchings, splashdowns, and parades as the U.S. raced the USSR to the moon in the 1960s. But few know that both countries also ran parallel space programs, whose covert goal was to launch military astronauts on spying missions. Co-produced by investigative journalist James Bamford, acclaimed best-selling author of The Puzzle Palace and Emmy Award-winning producer Scott Willis, “Astrospies” uncovers new clues about the tensest period of the Cold War, when the U.S. and USSR were on the verge of war and desperate for intelligence on each other’s nuclear capabilities.

In the U.S., the Air Force-run program was given the cover name Manned Orbiting Laboratory. The public was informed only that the project involved placing military astronauts in space to conduct scientific research. But in reality, as the MOL pilots themselves tell NOVA, their actual mission was far different—although even they were kept in the dark at first.

USAF Manned Orbiting Laboratory

In fact, MOL was designed to be an orbiting spy station, with two astronauts operating an array of intelligence-gathering instruments, including a telescope capable of resolving objects on the ground as small as three inches. In footage broadcast for the first time, NOVA shows a mock-up of MOL’s interior as well as astronauts training for different phases of the mission.

For more Information concerning this episode of NOVA and covert space programs of the former Soviet Union and the United States visit the 
companion website of this episode and Deepcold. This website is a major treasure trove of information concerning the secret space program of the the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Astrospies can be purchased on DVD from PBS Home Video

NOVA: Astrospies

Blue Gemini Missile Spacecraft

The Blue Gemini Spacecraft, the closest humankind has ever come to a space fighter. Blue Gemini was a United States Air Force project first proposed in August 1962 for a series of seven flights of Gemini spacecraft to enable the Air Force to gain manned spaceflight experience prior to the launch of the Manned Orbital Development System, or MODS. The plan was to utilize off-the-shelf Gemini spacecraft.

MOL Spacecraft

The Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) was part of the United States Air Force's manned spaceflight program, a successor to the cancelled X-20 Dyna-Soar project. Initially, the MOL was intended to prove the utility of man in space for military missions. However, the program was redirected in the mid-1960s and developed as a space station used for reconnaissance purposes. The Gemini B/MOL craft was externally similar to NASA's Gemini spacecraft although it underwent several modifications. The most obvious was the addition of a circular hatch through the heat shield to allow passage between the spacecraft and the laboratory.

X-20 Dyna-Soar Survelliance Spacecraft

The Dyna-Soar was far more advanced in concept than the other human spaceflight missions of the period. It had military missions other than simply placing one or two men into space. It is one of the great "what if" projects of early spaceflight. Data collected during the X-20 program would prove useful in designing the Space Shuttle. The much larger Shuttle would also be boosted into orbit by large rockets for launch, and the final design would also pick delta wings for controlled landings, but it (and a similar Soviet design, Buran) would not fly until decades after the X-20 cancellation.

Mig-105 Launch from 50/50 Spacecraft

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-105 "Spiral" was a Soviet project to create an orbital spaceplane. It was originally conceived in response to the American X-20 Dyna-Soar military space project and may have been influenced by contemporary manned lifting body research being conducted by NASA's Flight Research Center in California. It was nicknamed "Lapot" Russian: лапоть, or best shoe (the word is also used as a slang for "shoe") for the shape of its nose.

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