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Astrospies

Program Overview


NOVA delves into the untold story of a secret U.S. Air Force-run program designed to launch military astronauts on spy missions in space during the Cold War.

The program:

  • describes the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR) to be leaders in space technology in order to gain an advantage in the Cold War.

  • explains the necessity for human involvement in the space spy program due to the inability of America's first spy satellites to take useful pictures during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

  • introduces a number of talented USAF members who were recruited and trained at California's Aerospace Research Pilot School.

  • reveals that the recruits were actually part of a secret crew selection for a military astronaut program.

  • documents the 1963 public announcement of the manned orbiting laboratory (MOL) program and its stated goal of conducting experiments on the survivability of military astronauts in space and their ability to observe and track objects on the ground.

  • reveals that the MOL was not actually intended for experiments, but as a highly secret mission to spy on and photograph enemy targets in real time using a telescope with a four-inch resolution.

  • recounts the experiences of the crew involved in the MOL program, including how they trained for working in space and how they were instructed not to tell anyone—even their families—what they were doing.

  • explains the challenges of obtaining detailed photos of targets from space and reviews the strategies developed to improve resolution, including lowering the MOL orbit over points of interest and using a six-foot lens.

  • reports on the USSR's simultaneous development of a manned spy satellite.

  • announces the cancellation of the MOL project in 1969 in favor of the development of unmanned spy satellites that could transmit high-quality video signals back to Earth almost instantly.

  • reports on the Soviet's subsequent launch of Almaz, an orbiting spy station equipped with sophisticated technology designed to track objects on Earth and in space.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after program is recorded off the air.

Teacher's Guide
Astrospies
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