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'Apollo 18,' which lands at a theater near you this weekend, is a fictional horror story about recently discovered lost footage from a 1973 moon landing that was never publicly announced. Dimension Films is playing up the angle that this is actual lost footage and not at all a horror film that they are not screening for critics (for whatever reason). Now, obviously, what's being released in theaters this weekend is fiction, but in reality, there was very much an Apollo 18 mission scheduled (as well as Apollo 19 and Apollo 20). Early September movies aside, what is the real story behind the Apollo 18 moon mission and why was that mission canceled?
'Apollo 18,' the film, takes place in December of 1973 (we think; as stated, we haven't actually seen 'Apollo 18'). The actual Apollo 18, after some delays, was set to launch in February of 1972 before it was delayed again and then finally scrapped. If the Apollo program had continued, the 1973 landing that the film depicts would not have been completely out of the question, considering that Apollo 17, the final Apollo mission, launched in December of 1972.
So, what happened to the real life Apollo 18? Unlike its film counterpart, it wasn't alien life on the moon that doomed the mission -- it was perhaps the equally as frightening answer of "Richard Nixon." Actually, kind of surprisingly, if it weren't for Casper Weinberger – most known for his role as Defense Secretary during the Iran-Contra Affair, later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush – Apollo 16 and 17 would have been scrapped, too (resulting in a title change for this weekend's film).
In 1971, citing budget constraints, Nixon had planned to shut down the Apollo missions in their entirety. Weinberger persuaded President Nixon not to cancel the Apollo 16 and 17 (along with the already canceled 18, 19, and 20) missions out of, what sounds like, American pride. Weinberger pleaded his case that if Nixon must cancel Apollo 16 and Apollo 17, to at least frame it in the context that the Apollo 15 mission had been such a success and that no more missions would be needed, as opposed to budget cuts. Regardless, Apollo 16 and 17 were launched as scheduled.
The Apollo 18 crew would have most likely consisted of Dick Gordon (who was on the Apollo 12 mission, but remained in the command module), Vance Brand (who would go on to command three space shuttle missions) and Harrison Schmitt. Schmitt, a geologist and not a pilot, was bumped up to the Apollo 17 crew and actually is one of the last men to ever walk on the moon.
Apollo 18's intended mission was to land on or near the Copernicus crater: an 800 million-year-old crater that spans 57 miles.
After Apollo 17, NASA switched its focus to Skylab – a U.S. space station that was launched into orbit in 1973 before reentering the atmosphere in 1979, causing its destruction. (Debris from the space station was found in Australia.) After Skylab, the Space Shuttle program began – a program that would last until 2011.
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