For a while during the summer of 1969, NASA basked in the afterglow of two major successes. Within a few days of the return of the first men from the moon, two unmanned spacecraft, Mariner 6 and 7, flew by Mars and transmitted hundreds of closeup photographs - the first since Mariner 4 in 1965 and the most detailed ever.1 Some continuity in manned space flight was assured when several years of difficult planning culminated in the decision - made while Apollo 11 was on its way back to earth - on a configuration and mission plans for the first post-Apollo project, Skylab.2
Successes notwithstanding, the future of manned space flight was far from settled. The Nixon administration, just eight months in office, had not adopted a policy on space and was waiting far recommendations from a special Space Task Group appointed in January 1969. Early indications were that the new administration was more strongly committed to reductions in government spending than to ambitious space programs.3
The national enthusiasm generated by Apollo 11 was soon spent. In the
words of a journalist who had followed the program from its early days,
The people who in 1961 said, 'yessir, let's go to the
moon and beat the Russians' had become a different people by 1969. . . .
There was the feeling: 'we won the war, now bring the boys home.' . . .
no one wanted a big space program any more. * 4
"No one" is an exaggeration - there were many who believed in
continuing manned space flight at an ambitious pace, particularly NASA
Administrator Thomas O. Paine - but certainly the public's enthusiasm
for space flight waned rapidly after Apollo 11. Apollo would not suffer
the full effects of this change in public opinion, but neither would it
escape them entirely.
Until the first lunar landing was accomplished, George Mueller intended to launch missions as frequently as possible. At the end of June 1969 three Saturn/Apollo vehicles were in preparation at Kennedy Space Center: Apollo 11 on the launch pad, Apollo 12 in the Vehicle Assembly Building, and Apollo 13 components being readied for stacking. Headquarters' launch forecast issued in June projected flights only two months apart, in July, September, and November - essentially the same schedule that had existed for more than a year.5 After the first successful landing the interval between missions was extended to four months: Apollo 12 was rescheduled for November 14 and Apollo 13 was targeted for earliest launch readiness by March 9, 1970.6
* "Bring the boys home" was a cry raised throughout the country as soon as World War II ended in August 1945. As a result, the U.S. hastily - some thought unwisely - discharged millions of draftees from the armed services and dismantled its military forces around the world.
1. Stuart Auerbach, "Mariner 6 Relays 33 Pictures of Mars," Washington Post, July 30, 1969; idem, "Mariner 7 Photographs Mysterious Mars Canals," ibid., Aug. 5, 1969; Edward Clinton Ezell and Linda Neuman Ezell, On Mars: Exploration of the Red Planet 1958-1978, NASA SP-42l2 (Washington, 1984), pp. 74-80, 175-80.
2. W. David Compton and Charles D. Benson, Living and Working in Space: A History of Skylab, NASA SP-4208 (Washington, 1983), pp. 104-11.
3. Ibid., pp. 115-18; Homer E. Newell, Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science, NASA SP- 4211 (Washington, 1980), pp. 286-89.
4. John Noble Wilford, "A Spacefaring People: Keynote Address," in A Spacefaring People: Perspectives on Early Spaceflight, Alex Roland, ed., NASA SP-4405 (Washington, 1985), p. 72. Wilford, a veteran reporter and one of the best on space, covered the space program for the New York Times for many years. He was the keynote speaker at this conference on manned space flight history at Yale University, Feb. 6-7, 1981. Wilford asserted (p. 71) as one of the major themes of space history that "The first Apollo landing was, in one sense, a triumph that failed, not because the achievement was anything short of magnificent but because of misdirected expectations and a general misperception of its real meaning. The public was encouraged to view it only as the grand climax of the space program, a geopolitical horse race; and extraterrestrial entertainment - not as a dramatic means to the greater end of developing a far-ranging spacefaring capability. This led to the space program's post-Apollo slump [emphasis in the original]."
5. John D . Stevenson, TWX to MSF centers and support elements, "MSF Mission Operations Forecast for June 1969," June 5, 1969; Courtney G. Brooks, James M. Grimwood, and Loyd S. Swenson, Jr., Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft, NASA SP-4205 (Washington, 1979), p. 285; Mueller, "Manned Space Flight Weekly Report - July 1, 1969."
6. Stevenson to multiple addressees, TWX, "MSF mission operations forecast for August 1969," July 27, 1969; Mueller, "Manned Space Flight Weekly Report - July 29, 1969."