Alternate Manned Orbiting Laboratory, 1966: NASA, USAF, and the Lew Allen solution

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See attached, from a declassified history of spysats.

NASA and the military as of 1966 were quite unhappy at each others.

- The military was encroaching on NASA manned spaceflight area, with MOL.

- NASA was greatly bothering the military and spooks (NRO, USAF, CIA) by "hijacking" NRO technology they had been passed, to pick Apollo landing sites on the Moon (Earth-orbit UPWARD, and then PERCHERON "civilian KH-7", and then civilian KH-4B Coronas...).
They were trying to repurpose it in Earth orbit rather than the Moon for a) remote sensing far better than Landsat and b) civilian "Arms control" - when there was already an agency to do the job (ACDA) and they were using NRO spysat imagery. This caused never ending National Security hassles and greatly annoyed the US military and intelligence agencies.

Lew Allen (later NSA and JPL director) was a little baffled by all this and proposed to try and blend AAP and MOL, the following way

- unmanned MOL to cut costs (goodbye Gemini-B and perhaps, SCL-6 pad) and move away from NASA AAP manned turf

- manned MOL would later return, two ways
a) MOL pressurized module + Apollo for NASA remote sensing, without of course the classified camera
b) MOL pressurized module + Apollo for the military - with the camera to spy the Soviet Union

This has some interesting alt-history potential.

Since this is the alternate history section, let's start speculating...

The unmanned MOL would still be launched from Vandenberg. Either from SLC-4 or the brand new SLC-6. No crew, no Gemini-B, but film return capsules. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vandenberg_Space_Launch_Complex_4#Titan_IIID

A "man tended" MOL (with a docking collar for Apollo and the pressurized module for the crew) would later launch the same way. It is far more practical to launch in polar orbit from Vandenberg than The Cape.

Now, the Apollo man-tended MOL missions. Problem: no Saturn pad at Vandenberg. The only way is to launch into polar orbit from The Cape CCAFS by making an ascent "dogleg". To avoid dropping bits of rockets either on the East Coast or the Caribbean.

For NASA: problem is that a MOL even without the huge camera is still much heavier than the ASTP module. So separate launches: MOL module from LC-40 /41, Apollo from LC-34 / 37A or 37B, nearby.
Note that NASA space stations / AAP missions don't go to polar orbit so the dogleg might not be necessary. The module is a "man tended MOL" except without the classified, huge camera - mking it 12000 pounds lighter (from a declassified AAP / MOL document). Instead of spysat cameras, maybe there are cameras borrowed from reconnaissance planes, as done for the later Apollos around the Moon (LTC, PanCam).
From 1969-70 NASA procured a handful of Titan III (8 of them) for the ATS-F comsat and later, Centaur missions: one test flight, two Helios, two Vikings, two Voyagers.
In 1963 NASA and the spooks had an agreement saying (kind of) "no details smaller than a milliradiant on civilian pictures of Earth surface". From 250 miles high, 1 milliradiant mean 18 m to 20 m. For the sake of comparison, the all time record for a NRO spysat is 6 cm: 2.3 inch.
I suppose Allen proposal to "stuff" KH-10 shells as NASA space stations or Apollo mission modules took that into account: no onboard camera powerful enough to resolve details smaller than 18 m... and no arms control either. This job is for NRO and ACDA, not NASA.

For the military: polar orbit was mandatory for MOL. So the "man tended" module would have to launch from Vandenberg, just like the unmanned ones (which makes some sense). As for Apollo: maybe there would be an agreement similar to OTL military shuttle missions. MSE were military men but their spaceships (the Shuttles) were "borrowed" from NASA. So the military would use NASA infrastructures, Saturns, and Apollo vehicles.
MOL module is launched first, into polar orbit, from Vandenberg. Some time later, a Saturn Apollo launches from LC-34 / 37A-B with an ascent dogleg and a military crew, they visit the module for some days before returning.

Attached: a whole bunch of AAP-MOL documents related to the tentative "fusion" of the two (that went nowhere for obvious reasons).
 

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Last edited:
Soooo at the end of the day, there are kind of three different MOLs in this TL (which share the same pressurized shell)
- military, unmanned (to complete or replace the KH-8)
- civilian, manned: Apollo mission module, NASA, remote sensing, no big camera
- military, manned: Apollo mission module, USAF / NRO, "piloted spysat" with the big camera.

Manned Spaceflight Engineers fly onboard Saturns and Apollo "surpluses", in an agreement somewhat similar to OTL military Shuttle missions.
The MOL modules are launched ahead of them by Titan IIIs, either from The Cape or from Vandenberg.
 
Soooo at the end of the day, there are kind of three different MOLs in this TL (which share the same pressurized shell)
- military, unmanned (to complete or replace the KH-8)
- civilian, manned: Apollo mission module, NASA, remote sensing, no big camera
- military, manned: Apollo mission module, USAF / NRO, "piloted spysat" with the big camera.

Manned Spaceflight Engineers fly onboard Saturns and Apollo "surpluses", in an agreement somewhat similar to OTL military Shuttle missions.
The MOL modules are launched ahead of them by Titan IIIs, either from The Cape or from Vandenberg.
No joint flights with both NASA civilian and military personal anymore.
 
No. They need 100% military crews, and they did it for the military shuttles (STS-27, for example). If you put civilian astronauts onboard, they would "blow the lid" of the NRO and spysats, none were even recognized to exist by the US government until 1992 - first declassified documents in 1995.
 

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