USAF Alternate Gemini Program... Mar 20, 2006 12:31:38 GMT -6
Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on Mar 20, 2006 12:31:38 GMT -6
The Blue Gemini blues
One of the surprises is that the Air Force actually had a manned spaceflight program during the period when NASA was conducting Mercury. It was a secret program and never reached full development. The White House may not even have known about it at the time.
In 1958, before Mercury, the Air Force had sponsored a program named Man-In-Space-Soonest to develop a manned spacecraft. Lockheed was one of the contractors proposing a spacecraft for MISS. The company proposed a pressurized 1.5-meter diameter spacecraft that would ride atop an Atlas-Agena launch vehicle. It would have been slightly smaller than Mercury and certainly cramped for an astronaut.
One of the surprises is that the Air Force actually had a manned spaceflight program during the period when NASA was conducting Mercury. The White House may not even have known about it at the time.
MISS was canceled and the Eisenhower Administration ordered that human spaceflight was to be run by the new civilian space agency NASA. This did not stop General Schriever, however. The Air Force contracted Lockheed to build its pressurized spacecraft and stick a high-powered camera inside, turning the vehicle into a reconnaissance satellite. It was called Samos E-5 and it was a kludge of a spacecraft.
General Bernard Schriever, the legendary head of the Ballistic Missiles Division, approved E-5 in order to have a pressurized Air Force spacecraft that was large enough to carry a human, albeit a small human. Samos E-5 flew five times starting in spring 1961 and it failed every single time. But the pressurized capsule kept the Air Force in the manned spaceflight game even though NASA was supposed to be the government agency in charge of human spaceflight.
By the second half of 1960, the Air Force had contracted Lockheed to build a chimpanzee “life cell” for the spacecraft and was evaluating chimpanzee flights of up to fourteen days, including travel through the Van Allen radiation belts. This was part of the Bioastronautical Orbital Space System (BOSS) program.
It was clear from the context, however, that the Air Force had little interest in chimpanzee flights or bioastronautics per se. Even the official BOSS proposal indicated that the chimp research had limited utility and that the Air Force’s primary goal was to put a human in space for two reasons: to explore the usefulness of a manned spacecraft for military purposes, and because the Russians would have men in orbit too, some of them possibly carrying nuclear bombs.
The Air Force leadership clearly was not always thinking rationally about its manned spaceflight operations. Another parallel program with BOSS was called “Space Canary” and would have involved flying a rhesus monkey along with a human astronaut. The theory was that the monkey would show ill effects of spaceflight and serve as a warning to the human. It was not a particularly smart idea and fortunately it was canceled before any monkey was forced to fly with a stinky human in space.
BOSS was never approved, although the Air Force apparently tried to obtain funding for it at least twice in 1961 and then again in 1962. But what the existence of Samos E-5 and BOSS demonstrates is that the Air Force was not simply involved in the Dyna-Soar project during this early period, but was also actively working on a low-end manned spaceflight program. By 1962 General Schriever would get a better opportunity.
Full story here: www.thespacereview.com/article/582/1
Covert programs always interest me.