Shattered Dreams: The Lost and Canceled Space Missions

Shattered Dreams: The Lost and Canceled Space Missions


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Shattered Dreams delves into the personal stories and recollections of several men and women who were in line to fly a specific or future space mission but lost that opportunity due to personal reasons, mission cancellations, or even tragedies. While some of the subjects are familiar names in spaceflight history, the accounts of others are told here for the first time. Colin Burgess features spaceflight candidates from the United States, Russia, Indonesia, Australia, and Great Britain.

Shattered Dreams brings to new life such episodes and upheavals in spaceflight history as the saga of the three Apollo missions that were cancelled due to budgetary constraints and never flew; NASA astronaut Patricia Hilliard Robertson, who died of burn injuries after her airplane crashed before she had a chance to fly into space; and a female cosmonaut who might have become the first journalist to fly in space. Another NASA astronaut was preparing to fly an Apollo mission before he was diagnosed with a disqualifying illness. There is also the amazing story of the pilot who could have bailed out of his damaged aircraft but held off while heroically avoiding a populated area and later applied to NASA to fulfill his cherished dream of becoming an astronaut despite having lost both legs in the accident.

These are the incredibly human stories of competitive realists fired with an unquenchable passion. Their accounts reveal in their own words—and those of others close to them—how their shared ambition would go awry through personal accidents, illness, the Challenger disaster, death, or other circumstances.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496206756
Publisher: UNP - Nebraska
Publication date: 05/01/2019
Series: Outward Odyssey: A People's History of Spaceflight
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 750,012
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Colin Burgess is the author of several books on spaceflight, including Faith 7: L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., and the Final Mercury MissionFootprints in the Dust: The Epic Voyages of Apollo, 1969–1975 (Nebraska, 2010); and Teacher in Space: Christa McAuliffe and the Challenger Legacy (Nebraska, 2000). Don Thomas was a NASA mission specialist on missions STS-65, STS-70, STS-83, and STS-94.

Read an Excerpt


Losing the Moon

Apollo, the Abandoned Missions

To be sure, all this costs us all a good deal of money. This year's space budget is three times what it was in January 1961, and it is greater than the space budget of the previous eight years combined. That budget now stands at 5 billion, 400 million dollars a year — a staggering sum, though somewhat less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars every year.

— President John F. Kennedy

Many readers will undoubtedly recall the fad era of the so-called mission statements that adorned the walls of most company offices in the 1990s. The words they contained were intended to inspire workers and managers to even greater heights of achievement, as well as provide a motivating guide to the actions, decision making, and overall goals of an organization. One could suggest, however, that the mission statement to end all mission statements was delivered one late spring day on 25 May 1961, when President John F. Kennedy — four days short of his forty-fourth birthday — made the trip across Washington from the White House to Capitol Hill to deliver a monumental undertaking before a joint session of Congress.

Tired of finishing second to the Soviet Union in spaceflight achievements, a resolute President Kennedy was literally ready to shoot for the moon. Ignoring the recommendations of many of his closest advisers, he had decided a bold promise of action was required. He also needed to overcome the aftermath and political ramifications of the calamitous and costly Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, which, in the eyes of many, had portrayed him in the infancy of his presidency as a poor and indecisive leader.

In one of the young president's most passionate and eloquent speeches, he told the joint session of Congress, "I believe that this nation should commit itself, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space. And none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."

"Difficult" was right, so too was "expensive." More than $20 billion later John Kennedy's dream of a manned lunar landing had become a spectacular reality, although an assassin's bullets meant he was never destined to see it achieved.

In retrospect, the president's national commitment was not only audacious but also delivered at considerable political risk. The United States had yet to orbit a man around the earth; in fact, the only human-tended space experience the nation could boast by mid-1961 was a fifteen-minute suborbital lob made by Alan Shepard earlier that month. Nevertheless, the Apollo program was now undergoing preliminary work and planning and, in time, would exemplify the spirited character of Kennedy's presidency.

As the Apollo program pressed on into the 1970s and as more and more astronauts left lingering footprints in the lunar soil, the once-enamored U.S. public was becoming increasingly apathetic, and many people of influence began to query NASA's mandate. They started asking their congressional representatives just why further millions were being spent — totally wasted in their opinion — pursuing what they deemed to be just an extra few miserable moon rocks, when more pressing earthbound social problems were being starved of finances. By now, many of the nation's citizens had become desensitized to the televised sight of playful astronauts bounding or driving across the lunar terrain. The once-formidable spaceflight fervor was now at a low ebb, and the writing was clearly on the wall for Project Apollo. The United States had beaten the Soviet Union to the moon, and the euphoria of conquest had rapidly abated. In the face of this mounting public apathy, the budgetary shears were about to be unsheathed.

In a 2010 article, "Exploding the Myth of Popular Support for Project Apollo," one-time NASA chief historian Roger Launius had a critical look at the prevailing statistics:

At the end of 1965, the New York Times reported that a poll conducted in six American cities showed five other public issues holding priority over efforts in outer space. Polls in the 1960s also consistently ranked spaceflight near the top of those programs to be cut in the federal budget. Most Americans seemingly preferred doing something about air and water pollution, job training for unskilled workers, national beautification, and poverty before spending federal funds on human spaceflight. The following year Newsweek echoed the Times story, stating: "The U.S. space program is in decline. The Vietnam war and the desperate conditions of the nation's poor and its cities — which make space flight seem, in comparison, like an embarrassing national self-indulgence — have combined to drag down a program where the sky was no longer the limit."

NASA's last three planned lunar missions were about to be expelled from history, along with the space agency's ambitious but unfulfilled plans for a range of farsighted and enterprising journeys beyond our planet, extending the glory that had once been Project Apollo.

Joe Henry Engle had led life in the fast lane as one of America's most respected and skillful pilots. By early 1971 he had just about done it all; he had ridden some of the hottest planes in the sky and, on no less than three occasions, had piloted the mighty rocket-powered X-15 research aircraft to an altitude greater than fifty miles, thereby qualifying him as a U.S. Air Force astronaut. In April 1966 NASA made it even better for thirty-three-year-old Captain Engle when he was one of those selected in their latest group of nineteen astronauts. After his acceptance, he paid his dues working hard in the astronaut corps. And now he was looking forward to what would undoubtedly be the pinnacle of his career and his life — he was going to walk on the moon on the lunar landing Apollo 17 mission. Fate, however, still held a few sad ironies in store for the affable, young test pilot from Chapman, Kansas.

Two years earlier, in July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin had become the first humans to walk on the surface of the moon, and NASA had accomplished what is regarded as mankind's most sublime, intricate, and ambitious scientific enterprise ever. While it was hardly "the greatest week in the history of the world since the Creation," as President Richard Nixon declared to the crew and the world when he welcomed them back to Earth, the race to the moon had nevertheless brought America together like very few events in that century of achievement. Nevertheless, for all his public enthusiasm and slick hyperbole, the president cared little for spaceflight activity.

A Republican Party conservative, Richard Nixon did not believe his government should be spending massive sums of money on the space program, or even on social programs for that matter. Well before the first lunar landing, some Republicans were already calling for the scrapping of Project Apollo, but Nixon was shrewd and ignored these appeals. He had an ulterior motive; should the first lunar landing fail, he felt the blame would fall squarely on the preceding Democratic administrations of Kennedy and Johnson. To that end, NASA's administrator, Dr. Thomas Paine (appointed by President Lyndon Johnson), had not been replaced by a Republican appointee, as was the custom.

In June 1969 Nixon also appointed Vice President Spiro Agnew as head of a task force to determine what directions the space program should take during the seventies and eighties. Following the success of Apollo 11, the president then began to cut the NASA budget quite savagely, while a public once addicted to the achievements of Apollo grew ever more disenchanted and indifferent with each successive lunar mission.

Part of the problem, surprisingly, was NASA itself. In the space agency's public statements and literature, they had portrayed Apollo 11 as the culmination of a grand effort to get to the moon ahead of the Soviet Union, rather than as the beginning of a new era of exploration and scientific discovery. Other reasons for the public disquiet were the increasing pressures of poverty, social change, and the Vietnam War — financial and moral issues that were dividing the nation. Both Congress and the White House noted an unmistakable shift in the public mood and kept it in mind when considering future space funding.

In summing up the public attitude in 1970, the U.S. representative and future mayor of New York City Edward Koch had a lot to say after NASA had boldly proposed flying human beings to Mars. "I just can't for the life of me see voting for monies to find out whether or not there is some microbe on Mars," he raged, "when in fact I know there are rats in Harlem apartments."

Originally, there were ten lunar missions planned — Apollo 11 to Apollo 20 — which would have placed twenty astronauts on the moon. When privately assessing which of them would fly on the coveted lunar missions, NASA's astronauts were well aware of the time-honored method of selection employed by astronaut chiefs Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton, both of whom had been grounded for medical reasons. This ordained that any crew serving as backups to another crew would then skip the two successive flights and be assigned to the following mission as the prime crew. Thus, in acting as backups to the Apollo 10 crew, Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper, Ed Mitchell, and Donn Eisele were favored to fly on Apollo 13. This began to unravel rapidly when NASA informed Eisele that he would likely never fly again after being part of the controversial Apollo 7 crew under Wally Schirra, as well as his recent poor attitude toward training and a distracting rift in his marriage. Eisele subsequently resigned from the space agency. Then Alan Shepard himself would upset the proverbial apple cart.

America's first man in space had been desperate to get back into a spacecraft since his history-making but all-too-brief ballistic flight back in May 1961. With the winding down of the Mercury program, Shepard had tried for a second and long-duration flight in that series but, failing this, had been assigned as commander of the first two-man Gemini mission. Then he was unexpectedly struck down by Ménière's disease, a disorder of the inner ear that impairs balance and causes dizzying attacks of vertigo. When he could no longer pretend it was something he could somehow shake off, Shepard was removed from the active astronaut list, grounded, and barred from all forms of flying. Although devastated and bitterly disappointed by this turn of events, he nevertheless stayed on with NASA as he continued the fight to regain his flight status. In the interim, he was appointed head of the Astronaut Office.

By 1968 Shepard's condition had worsened, and he was becoming increasingly deaf in his left ear. Then he heard about an ear surgeon in Los Angeles who might be able to help through a radical but risky operation, and Shepard decided to give it a shot. During the delicate surgery, a small silicone tube was implanted in his ear to drain excess fluid from the semicircular canal through the mastoid bone to the top of the spinal column. Fortunately for the veteran astronaut, the risky operation was a complete success, and once he was given medical clearance, Shepard was placed back on flight status. All too soon, that was not good enough for the former U.S. Navy pilot; using his considerable administrative influence within NASA, he soon began canvassing for command of a lunar mission.

Much to the chagrin of his Mercury colleague Gordon Cooper, Shepard was gifted the command of Apollo 13. Having served as backup commander for Apollo 10, Cooper vehemently protested that the mission should rightfully be his, but he could muster very little support within NASA for his grievance. By now, he had become well known in the agency's corridors of power as a troublesome loner with a passion for racing cars and speedboats, with churlish public views (stating on one occasion, "I guess NASA wants astronauts to be tiddlywink players"), and with a casual attitude toward training. He had become a thorn in many people's sides because of his outspoken and recalcitrant views. Once he had lost command of Apollo 13, and with little backing, Cooper quickly got the message that he would never fly into space again and resigned from NASA in disgust. Shepard, together with rookie astronauts Ed Mitchell and Stu Roosa, was now scheduled to fly to the moon.

However, NASA prudently decided that Shepard needed some additional training time, and as a result, the crews of Apollo 13 and Apollo 14 were transposed. Jim Lovell's crew, which included Fred Haise as the lunar module pilot (LMP) and Ken Mattingly as the command module pilot (CMP), went up a peg in the order, and they set about readying themselves for an earlier flight to the moon on Apollo 13. Much to his annoyance, Mattingly would later be dropped from the mission after he was inadvertently exposed to German measles and replaced by his backup, Jack Swigert, just three days before the scheduled launch. Mattingly never did catch German measles and was subsequently reassigned as command module pilot on Apollo 16 to compensate for his disappointment.

The production of Saturn V rockets was placed on hold in the spring of 1967. Then, during the formulation of the budget for fiscal year 1968, the U.S. Congress decided not to appropriate any money for the construction of any new Saturn V rockets. Following receipt of a NASA directive from administrator James Webb to limit Saturn V production to Vehicle SA-515, the Marshall Space Flight Center began terminating the manufacture of engine hardware for the Apollo and Apollo Applications programs. NASA now had to work out the optimal way to utilize the Saturn rockets that had survived the production cut.

The Apollo Applications Program (AAP) provided for a short-term, Earth-orbiting space station, fundamentally assembled using leftover hardware from the lunar landing program. Prior to the budgetary cuts, the AAP (later renamed Skylab) had called for a "wet lab" concept, in which two Saturn IB rockets would be launched, one placing the S-IVB stage into orbit, where it would then become an orbiting space laboratory. A second Saturn would follow, carrying the astronauts and docking module. After a thirty-day mission aboard the space laboratory, the first crew would return, and then another Saturn IB launch would carry a second crew of astronauts into orbit, docking with the station to begin a fifty-six-day occupancy.

Later, there would be yet another dual IB launch — the first carrying the Apollo Telescope Mount (ATM) and the second carrying another crew on a subsequent fifty-six-day mission. Prior to fiscal year 1968, plans had called for up to three of these so-called wet labs, to be followed into space by three "dry labs." After fiscal year 1968, plans called for a follow-up dry lab, and there was an assumption that the production of the Saturn V would recommence.

In September 1968 Spiro Agnew's task force presented its report to Richard Nixon. Instead of taking any immediate action, the president allowed it to sit on his desk, without making any comment for four months. The report contained some interesting possible directions for the U.S. space program. The first option was a rapid program similar to Apollo, which involved a crewed journey to Mars in 1983 and would require funding of some $9 billion per year from 1980 onward. A final decision on this had to be made in 1974. The second choice was a Mars expedition to leave Earth in 1986. The cost of this venture was $8 billion per year from 1980 onward, and it required a commitment by 1977. The final option was to defer a Mars flight until the year 2000, with a decision needed by 1990.

One of the main elements in each of these plans was the development of a reusable space vehicle that could make routine flights to an Earth-orbiting space station, which was the genesis of the space shuttle program. Another requirement for any flight to Mars was a rocket powerful enough to send humans, their fuel, and food supplies on the journey. A team headed by Wernher von Braun had already drawn up plans for a rocket engine known as Nerva, which was nuclear powered and designed to provide sufficient thrust for both the space shuttle and a Mars vehicle.

Shortly after the Apollo 11 launch and before the landing, NASA's newest administrator, Thomas O. Paine, signed off on the decision to switch Apollo Applications to a dry lab concept that would require a Saturn V launch.

In a 22 July 1969 news release, NASA formally announced the AAP reorientation to the dry workshop, or laboratory, configuration. Both the fully outfitted workshop and integrated ATM were to be launched aboard a single Saturn V in 1972. Once the laboratory had been placed in a secure circular orbit, it would be followed about a day later by the first three-man crew. They would launch aboard a Saturn IB and link up in orbit with the laboratory-ATM cluster, thus beginning the manned portion of the mission.


Excerpted from "Shattered Dreams"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Prologue: End of a Spaceflight Dream
1. Losing the Moon: Apollo, the Abandoned Missions
2. Earthbound Astronaut: Scientist-Astronaut Duane “Doc” Graveline
3. Born beneath the Southern Cross: NASA’s Group 6 Astronaut Philip K. Chapman
4. Svetlana’s Story: Russia’s Journalist-in-Space Program and Cosmonaut-Journalist Svetlana Omelchenko
5. Unfulfilled Ambitions: Lt. Cdr. Stephen D. Thorne, USN
6. The Greatest Gesture: Oceanographer Robert E. Stevenson
7. Test Pilot and Ex-Astronaut: Group 5 Astronaut Lt. Cdr. John S. Bull, USN
8. An Indonesian Flag in Space: Payload Specialist Pratiwi Sudarmono
9. Countdown to Skynet: Britain’s First Astronaut Candidates
10. Patience, Persistence, and Guts: The Extraordinary Story of Frank K. Ellis
11. Vostok Lady: Pilot and Parachutist Marina Popovich
12. With Stars in Her Eyes: Group 19 Mission Specialist Patricia Hilliard Robertson
13. New Hampshire to the New Frontier: Payload Specialist Candidate Robert J. Wood
14. Argentina’s Only Astronaut: Fernando (Frank) Caldeiro
Epilogue: A Personal Reflection

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