The sign on the MOL suit's display case. It reads
United States Air Force's
Manned Orbiting Laboratory Program (MOL)
This Manned Orbiting Lab space suit has rarely been seen because it was
produced secretly for military "space" spies to wear. In the mid-1960s, when
NASA's Gemini and Apollo programs were getting all of the media attention, the
U.S. Air Force was quietly developing their own manned space program. Called
the Manned Orbiting Laboratory Program, or MOL, the Air Force was
planning to send some of their own pilots into space in what would essentially
be 30-day long spy missions.
But this space suit would never fly. The MOL program was canceled in July,
1969 -- the same month NASA's Apollo 11 crew landed on the moon. The seven Air
Force astronauts training for MOL were transferred to NASA, and all would later
fly Space Shuttle missions.
The suits were only recently discovered when two security
officers ventured into a long-locked room at Cape Canaveral Air Force
Station during a routine check at a Launch Complex.
The Air Force planned for the MOL program to use a permanent Earth-orbiting
space station, and send astronauts back and forth to it using a modified Gemini spacecraft.
While in space, the military astronauts would conduct a variety of
top-secret reconnaissance missions on various Earth targets.
To support their new astronauts, the Air Force needed a new, light-weight space
suit. Mercury and Gemini space suits had become obsolete, and the suits being
developed for Apollo were for a totally different purpose -- walking on
Hamilton Standard, an aircraft propeller manufacturer, who had gained great
experience in the development of full-pressure garments, was contracted by the
Air Force to develop the space suit. The result was a well-designed suit that
demonstrated great ease of mobility.
The MOL suit's most unique design feature was a helmet neck ring that separated
in the front. This allowed the front of the suit to be fully opened up, making
it possible for an individual astronaut to put it on and to remove it by
themselves. Normally, getting into a space suit was a two-person activity.