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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 June, 2005, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
'007 spy suit' found in Nasa bunker
By Irene Mona Klotz
at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida

The MOL was going to make use of already designed Gemini capsules

The spy was definitely not called Bond, for that name is not among the military officers selected 40 years ago to conduct reconnaissance missions for the US from an orbital laboratory in space.

But secret agent Bond shares a number - 007 - with one of the US spies-in-training.

Space historians are trying to find out who the mystery man is after his spacesuit turned up, along with an identical outfit bearing number 008, in an abandoned space agency (Nasa) blockhouse last used to launch Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom into space in 1961.

"I wish I knew how they got there," said Roger Launius, chairman of the space history department at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

Suit 008 was easier to trace, as the word "LAWYER" was emblazoned on the left shoulder.

Though some, no doubt, would have applauded the idea, sending the Nasa attorney into space was not part of the programme.

Rather, the suit belonged to Air Force Lt Col Richard Lawyer, a member of the first group of eight military officers selected in 1965 to serve in a programme known as the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, or MOL.

Robot spies

Over the next two years, the programme, run by the Air Force in cooperation with Nasa, signed up another nine aspiring space spies and began training them for what was expected to be month-long missions aboard an orbital outpost based on a modified Gemini capsule.

The programme died in 1969, as advances in robotics and satellite technology began to match what the military wanted to achieve by stationing human eyes in space - namely keep watch over its Cold War Soviet foes - and do so at a fraction of the cost.

We had to open it up and look at the suits because [with KSC] being a wildlife preserve, you never know what else might be in there with it
Dann Oakland, Nasa security officer
"The programme didn't get too far," Launius said. "In the end, the programme didn't require humans in the loop.

"Plus, with the pressures on the military during the Vietnam War, it was a pretty easy decision on the part of the secretary of defense to cancel MOL."

Programme relics, including at least 22 flight training suits made by Hamilton Sundstrand, were collected over the years and dispatched to the Smithsonian, which serves as the official US space programme archivist.

But at least two of the sky-blue suits disappeared.

No one knows how long the suits languished in the dark and rodent-infested Blockhouse 5/6 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, located adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center.

Space mouse

Late last year, however, fire marshals inspecting part of the facility noted piles of decomposing film and deemed them a fire hazard, said Luis Barrios, a design specialist hired by Kennedy Space Center to work with its museum and tourist centre.

When security officials went to clean out the blockhouse, they found a locked annexe with no key. After tracking down a master key, the officers stumbled upon a blue box on the floor of the building and opened it.

A hand-painted Nasa meatball emblem adorned the inside cover and nestled inside the container were two blue spacesuits and four or five pairs of gloves.

MOL spacesuit (Nasa/Dann Oakland)
The suits were found in amongst the boxes
"We had to open it up and look at the suits because [with KSC] being a wildlife preserve, you never know what else might be in there with it," Nasa security officer Dann Oakland said.

The officers did, in fact, find a mouse nest in the box and tossed it away before packing up the space artefacts and taking them to a secure site.

Lawyer's suit has already been shipped to the Smithsonian, which will soon begin the restoration process. Suit 007 would be following shortly, Barrios said.

For its efforts, KSC will be getting another MOL suit to display at its visitors centre museum.

"It's a reward for something that nobody expected to have the good fortune of finding," Barrios said.




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