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“Project Manifold and the MOL Heat Shield Test” by Joel W. Powell
Published in Quest Volume: 29 #4 (2022)


There are space enthusiasts, including this author, who still lament the cancellation of the US Air Force’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program more than half a century ago. Prime contractor Douglas Aircraft was already producing significant MOL flight hardware in Huntington Beach, California, when the program’s cancellation was announced by the Pentagon on 10 June 1969.

With little fanfare, the Air Force conducted a lone flight test of a mockup MOL laboratory in November 1966—along with a used NASA Gemini capsule to test a key heatshield modification. Aside from photographs of the Titan IIIC launch vehicle (and a single, but very detailed diagram of the research payloads flown in the lab mockup), the mission has remained cloaked in obscurity for more than 50 years.

Thanks to two serendipitous discoveries of mission-related photographs for sale on eBay, the veil has been lifted partway from the long-ago MOL test mission. The exclusive photographs presented in this article reveal the experiment hardware installed in the mockup MOL lab, as well as the recovery of Gemini-2R after a  suborbital re-entry into the south Atlantic Ocean.


Powell, Joel W. “Project Manifold and the MOL Heat Shield Test.” Quest: The History of Spaceflight Quarterly 29, no. 4 (2022): 35-42.

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More Information

  • Archive ID # G301280
  • Format: Document (PDF)
  • Author/Creator:
  • Publication Year: 2022
  • Publisher: Quest
  • Copyright Status: Copyrighted
  • Copyright Holder: SPACE 3.0
  • Language: English
  • Number of Pages: 8
  • Type: History
  • Subject:
  • Collection: Quest
  • Availability: Digital Download

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