|Directed by||John Sturges|
|Produced by||M. J. Frankovich
Frank Capra Jr.
|Written by||Martin Caidin
|Editing by||Walter Thompson|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Running time||134 minutes|
|Box office||$4.1 million (USA / Canada rentals)|
It was based on the 1964 novel Marooned by Martin Caidin; however, while the original novel was based on the single-pilot Mercury program, the film depicted an Apollo Command/Service Module with three astronauts and a space station resembling Skylab. Caidin acted as technical adviser and updated the novel, incorporating appropriate material from the original version.
Three American astronauts — commander Jim Pruett (Crenna), "Buzz" Lloyd (Hackman), and Clayton "Stoney" Stone (Franciscus) — are the first crew of an experimental space station on an extended duration mission. While returning to Earth, the main engine on the Apollo spacecraft Ironman One fails. Mission Control determines that Ironman does not have enough backup thruster capability to initiate atmospheric reentry, or to re-dock with the station and wait for rescue. The crew is marooned in orbit.
NASA debates whether a rescue flight can reach the crew before their oxygen runs out in approximately two days. There are no backup launch vehicles or rescue systems available at Kennedy Space Center and NASA director Charles Keith (Peck) opposes using an experimental Air Force X-RV lifting body that would be launched on a Titan IIIC booster; neither the spacecraft nor the booster is man-rated, and there is insufficient time to put a new manned NASA mission together. Even though a booster is already on the way to nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for an already-scheduled Air Force launch, many hundreds of hours of preparation, assembly, and testing would be necessary.
Ted Dougherty (Janssen), the Chief Astronaut, opposes Keith and demands that something be done. The president agrees with Dougherty and tells Keith that failing to try a rescue mission will kill public support for the manned space program. The President tells Keith that money is no factor; "whatever you need, you've got it".
While the astronauts' wives (Lee Grant, Mariette Hartley, and Nancy Kovack) agonize over the fates of their husbands, all normal checklist procedures are bypassed to prepare the X-RV for launch. A hurricane headed for the launch area threatens to cancel the mission, scrubbing the final attempt to launch in time to save all three Ironman astronauts. However, the eye of the storm passes over the Cape 90 minutes later during a launch window, permitting a launch with Dougherty aboard in time to reach the ship while at least some of the crew survives.
Insufficient oxygen remains for all three astronauts to survive until Dougherty arrives. There is possibly enough for two. Pruett and his crew then debate what to do. Stone tries to reason that they can somehow survive by taking sleeping pills or otherwise reducing oxygen consumption. Lloyd offers to leave since he is "using up most of the oxygen anyway", but Pruett overrules him. He orders everyone into their spacesuits then leaves the ship, ostensibly to attempt repairs (although this option has been repeatedly dismissed as impractical).
When Lloyd sees Pruett going out the hatch, he attempts to follow. Before he can reach him, Pruett's space suit has been torn on a metal protrusion and oxygen rapidly escapes, leading to Pruett's death by anoxia. (It is not made explicit in the movie whether Pruett's death is intentional or not. While he had discussed the oxygen supply issue with the other astronauts, he shows clear alarm and shock when he sees the tear in his suit.) Lloyd looks on as Pruett's body drifts away into space. With Pruett gone, Stone takes command.
A Soviet spacecraft suddenly appears and its cosmonaut tries to make contact. It can do nothing but deliver oxygen since the Soviet ship is too small to carry additional passengers. Stone and Lloyd, suffering oxygen deprivation, cannot understand the cosmonaut's gestures or obey Keith's orders.
Dougherty arrives and he and the cosmonaut transfer the two surviving and mentally dazed Ironman astronauts into the rescue ship. Both the Soviet ship and the X-RV return to Earth, and the final scene fades out with a view of the abandoned Ironman One adrift in orbit.
Technical and artistic details
Martin Caidin makes a brief appearance in the film as a reporter describing the arrival of the X-RV at Cape Canaveral.
One way that the filmmakers tried to enhance the realism of the film was through the use of such items as the actual Plantronics headsets worn by the actors in the spacecraft, as well as authentic replicas of actual facilities such as the Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR) at Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Air Force Launch Control Center (AFLCC) at Cape Canaveral AFS. While most films strive to avoid "incidental" sounds, the headsets picked up the actors' breathing and other sounds.
The names of the film astronauts (Jim, Buzz and Stoney) were chosen out of the blue, not to reflect on the real astronauts with those names.
Ted Dougherty closely resembled real-life Chief Astronaut "Deke" Slayton, both in character and physical appearance. While Slayton, one of the Mercury Seven, had been grounded due to suspected heart problems, the film put him into space as the pilot of the rescue ship. David Janssen, who was a pilot himself, was selected in part due to his resemblance to Slayton.
In 1975, Slayton was medically cleared, and made his only space flight on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, which may have been partially inspired by Marooned. The agreement between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. to conduct the ASTP was signed in Moscow in April, 1971.
The MOCR and AFLCC sets were built by Philco-Ford Corporation, builders of the actual facilities. Many of the technical personnel seen in those sets were Philco-Ford technicians.
Astronaut Jim Lovell and his wife Marilyn Lovell referred to the film years later in a special interview. Their recollection is shared as a feature on the DVD release of Apollo 13, a 1995 film directed by Ron Howard. The couple describes a 1969 film (never specifically named) in which an astronaut in an Apollo spacecraft "named Jim" faces mortal peril. The couple says the film gave Lovell's wife nightmares. Her experience inspired a dream sequence in Apollo 13 that recalls the 1960s-vintage cinematic look of Marooned.
The Apollo Command Module used in making the film was an actual "boilerplate" version of the "Block I" Apollo spacecraft (no Block I ever flew with a crew aboard). While the Block II series had a means of rapidly blowing the hatch open, the Block I did not, and the interior set was constructed using the boilerplate as a model. To blow the hatch in the movie, Buzz pulls on a handle attached to a hinge.
Several scenes show various people communicating directly with the astronauts in space. In actuality, only CAPCOM (an astronaut) and astronauts' wives would have been permitted to communicate with the spacecraft, all others in MOCR and AFLCC would only be able to communicate on the internal network or to their respective backroom teams.
Conspicuously absent from the film is any person resembling a flight director. In real life, "Flight" is in charge of a space mission during that director's shift. The filmmakers felt that adding a flight director would distract from the interpersonal dynamic between Keith and Dougherty.
The offscreen voice of the President closely resembles that of Robert F. Kennedy
While flying the Manned Maneuvering Unit, Lloyd's control inputs not only take place after the movements begin, but are also the opposite of what they should be, to match the preflight test shown a moment before.
For the 1969 Academy Awards held in 1970, the presenter for the best visual effects award was Raquel Welch. There were two nominees (Krakatoa: East of Java was the other). Before announcing the nominees, Welch said "I am here for visual effects and I have two of them." The film was also nominated for cinematography and best sound (Les Fresholtz, Arthur Piantadosi).
The 1969 Mad magazine satire of Marooned, called Moroned, described story events in actual film time. NASA officials are pressed to launch the X-RT — "the Experimental Rescue Thing" — in "about an hour…maybe, tops, an hour and a half". One astronaut sacrifices his life to escape the film critics.
During the preliminary discussions for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project the film was discussed as a means of disarming Soviet suspicion. One purpose of the mission was to develop and test capabilities for international space rescue.
The film and the Apollo 13 disaster that occurred soon after its release led to the development of rescue options for Skylab crews. The Skylab Rescue space vehicle, designed by technicians at North American Rockwell, modified a production Apollo Command Module to seat more than three astronauts. During Skylab flights the rescue spacecraft and its Saturn 1B booster were held in a state of readiness. An equipment failure aboard Skylab 3 with the Apollo CSM thrusters almost led to Skylab Rescue's launch.
In 1991, Marooned was redistributed under the name Space Travelers by Film Ventures International, an ultra-low-budget production company that prepared quickie television and video releases of films that were in the public domain or could be purchased inexpensively. As Space Travelers, Marooned was mocked on a 1992 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, becoming the only Academy Award winning film ever to receive the MST3K treatment.
- Survival film, about the film genre, with a list of related films
- List of films featuring space stations
- Glenn Lovell, Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges, University of Wisconsin Press, 2008, p 268-273
- "Big Rental Films of 1970", Variety, 6 January 1971, p 11
- The New York Times
- Shepard, Alan; Slayton, Deke; Barbree, Jay; Benedict Howard, MoonShot: The Inside Story of the Apollo Project
- Philip Handler to Ezell, 9 Oct. 1974.
- "The 42nd Academy Awards (1970) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-26.
- Edward Clinton Ezell & Linda Neuman Ezell, The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project