Most Americans think the Space Race was over when man first circled the moon. But at that exact moment in time the Air Force was busy launching and testing a Manned Orbital Laboratory known as MOL. Only late in 2016 was the program officially revealed, although facts had been seeping out for decades. Designed as an observation platform to spy on America's enemies or adversaries, there was little doubt that a command and control platform in space would give our military the high-ground advantage. Nixon cancelled it in late '69 (no one really knows why – but, surprise, surprise, shortly thereafter we started the Skylab project which was, essentially a similar container in space, albeit only for science experiments).
And here many of our readers may remember that we've written the Shuttle was cancelled in 2011 – all the while the Air Force was busy "testing" and launching the X-37c (first publicly revealed in 2010 – which means it was flying for at least 5 years before that). One of the X-37s landed in May 2017 after a two year mission. Yes, two years in orbit.
And let's not forget the larger than Shuttle AF Spaceplane that was formally cancelled (oops – the AF never admitted it was built, but they accidentally admitted the project was over) in 2016 as a line item in the Defense Budget. Photos? None. Artists' guesses? Plenty.
Turning the clock even a bit further back, before and during the MOL development program, the AF had a Gemini spacecraft program – attack spaceships meant to go up and disrupt Soviet armed platforms and spy satellites. Formally? Never existed. Oops, in the AF museum in Dayton there's a test Gemini spacecraft (it landed on skids)... Mike Jenne (a special forces recovery team member for that and other space programs) wrote a great book called Blue Gemini... supposedly totally fiction... and yet, it had to be redacted by the AF folks, just in case. Get it, and you'll understand how these top-secret programs were run. How accurate is it? Even the Shuttle Mission Controller and astronauts love it.
At SpaceFest last week in Tucson I had the great pleasure in re-making the acquaintance of several brave and talented astronauts, men who flew into space both with NASA and, ahem, other means (which they, of course, must deny). It doesn't really matter you say, it was all so long ago, after all the last Shuttle was in 2011... and heck the last Gemini was in '66 and Apollo in '75 (the ASTP mission)... why are all these flights and others still so secret? The truth? No one really knows. The Soviet space program, Glavcosmos, keep their secrets too, but, unlike NASA, their Cosmonauts seem free to speak out and tell the truth about the risks, adventure and reason for space exploration – encouraging the next generations. Meanwhile, old files and truths are kept secret in Washington, retired astronauts on a fixed government pension (never mind the paltry $8 per day danger pay for each flight) stump from SpaceFest to other such public gatherings, enthralling devotee fans with the few stories they are allowed to tell, signing anything put in front of them for $50 a time, trying to make ends meet.
I can make my feelings perfectly clear here: If there was one person in government or business who worked as hard, studied as hard, was as dedicated as any of the astronauts or cosmonauts I have had the privilege of meeting – I have yet to meet him or her. And I have met presidents, congressmen and women, Nobel Prize winners – not to say those were not capable, but none of them match the capability and degree of excellence as the men and women who have flown to space.