Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2018

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Andrew DeRoche

Second Advisor

Matthew Gerber

Third Advisor

Allison Anderson

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License


This thesis is an examination of the U.S. Air Force’s cancelled – and heretofore substantially classified – Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) space program of the 1960s, situating it in the broader context of military and civilian space policy from the dawn of the Space Age in the 1950s to the aftermath of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Several hundred documents related to the MOL have recently been declassified by the National Reconnaissance Office, and these permit historians a better understanding of the origins of the program and its impact. By studying this new windfall of primary source material and linking it with more familiar and visible episodes of space history, this thesis aims to reevaluate not only the MOL program itself but the dynamic relationship between America’s purportedly bifurcated civilian and military space programs. Many actors in Cold War space policy, some well-known and some less well-known, participated in the secretive program and used it as a tool for intertwining the interests of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with the Air Force and reshaping national space policy. Their actions would lead, for a time, to an unprecedented militarization of NASA by the Department of Defense which would prove to the benefit of neither party. As a recently emergent field within the study of history, the serious study of the Space Age is still in the process of maturing. By understanding and interpreting the story of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, this thesis aspires to contribute to that process.