Apollo 12: Life imitating Hollywood?

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Well-Known Member
Jun 5, 2009
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There's a Facebook discussion going on about lightning striking rockets, but it occurs to me to bring up some curious questions I've always had about the launch of Apollo 12:

1. Apollo 12, the second lunar
landing mission, was launched on November 14, 1969, in the middle of a medium heavy thunderstorm, the first time in US manned spaceflight a launch had taken place in the rain. The Saturn V was struck twice by lightning during ascent, causing brief electrical chaos on the vehicle, which was happily resolved by the ground crew and also the astronauts. Apollo 12 went on to a successful flight, marred only by the accidental destruction of the teevee camera from the lunar surface, so ultimately the lightning strike had no serious effect, although it certainly might have.

2. Four days earlier, on November 10, 1969, the major motion picture "Marooned," starring Gregory Peck, Richard Crenna, James Franciscus, Gene Hackman, David Janssen and others, had premiered nationwide (I believe they had premiere events in Houston and Cocoa Beach). "Marooned" had received technical assistance and cooperation from NASA; I believe they used an obsolete Block I Apollo CM for space scenes. At any rate "Marooned" was the first major movie dealing "realistically" with space during the Apollo program, and certainly many NASA personnel including astronauts were well aware of the movie's existence and may have seen early screenings. (Jim Lovell made brief reference to it in 'Apollo 13' I believe; the 'nightmare scene' where Lovell gets blown helplessly off into space is loosely based on the Jim Pruitt death scene from "Marooned.")

At any rate a huge plot point of "Marooned" is that near the end of the movie, in the full throttle effort to save the stranded Ironman crew, a Titan IIIC is launched (successfully) through the eye of a hurricane and thunderstorm.

So my question is, with the movie only released a couple days earlier with wide national publicity, do you think some NASA personnel may have been influenced, maybe even subliminally, with "go fever" thinking they could launch Apollo 12 in a thunderstorm?

Obviously in the aftermath there was some rethinking of the weather criteria for launches: I don't think in the rest of Apollo or the whole shuttle program any flight was ever launched in rain. (Cold temperatures, sadly, a separate issue.)
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Seriously though, I really doubt that a movie would have any influence on that group. Remember that these guys had recently learned a VERY difficult lesson with Apollo 1 and it would still be fresh in their minds. "Go fever" is essentially what took the lives of Grissom, White and Chaffee and everyone involved was very painfully aware of it.

I don't think the movie, being so recent, would have kept them from delaying the launch either. They probably didn't think it could have been risky to launch in the rain for a long time and there were probably mission rules about it. They didn't do anything if a mission rule was against it.
Well, if the winds had risen above 50 knots (the cutoff point in "Marooned"), I have a suspicion they would have scrubbed.