Military Operational Development System (MODS)

During the late 1950s and early 1960s the USAF was trying to determine if there was a role for military personnel in space. Space was the ultimate “high ground” and it seemed natural that the military would need to be dominant in that realm as well as on the air, land, and sea. Despite this forward momentum, the usefulness of having a crew in space to perform military activities was not obvious. It was unclear how much more a human could do in space versus machines. This suggested that a long-duration space station, rather than capsule missions of a few days, could best answer that question. 

These concepts were defined in a planning document for the USAF space efforts in early 1959. This included a reference to needing a “manned orbital laboratory” to answer the many questions related to military crews in space. Later that year, ARDC asked the Aeronautical System Division (ASD) at Wright Patterson AFB to begin study of a military test space station (MTSS). After some internal (USAF) discussions on the scope of the study, industry contracts were issue to five companies in August 1960. Contracts were performed by Lockheed, GE, McDonnell, GD/Convair, and Martin (Denver) in 1960 and 1961. The USAF was never able to get funding from the Pentagon for more detailed studies or development. Low-level work continued, however, and by March 1962, MTSS evolved (mostly a name change) into the “Military Orbital Development System” (MODS), and more detailed planning documents and funding requests soon followed. MODS would include an orbital lab, a manned logistics spacecraft (Gemini), and the Titan III launch vehicle. 

I have not been able to find any of the actual technical reports from MTSS or MODS (I’m still searching), but in later reports (see “Manned Orbiting Station and Alternatives” elsewhere on this site) some MTSS/MODS concepts were illustrated. The one below is captioned “MODS” as no illustrations have been found associated with the earlier MTSS study.

MODS Concept from USAF “Manned Orbiting Stations and Alternatives” report, 1963

The illustration below is from the same time period (1961-62) done for the Air Force. The caption indicated it was a design that could “meet the requirements” of either MORL or MODS.

MODS or MORL Four-man station, (artist Gordon Phillips), source U.S. National Archives