Marooned is a 1969 American film directed by John Sturges and starring Gregory Peck, Richard Crenna, David Janssen, James Franciscus, and Gene Hackman.
The film was released less than four months after the Apollo 11 moon landing and was tied to the public fascination with the event, although Apollo 13 would meet disaster just a year later. It won an Academy Award for Visual Effects. Along with 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is the first film about space travel and the first film about astronauts stranded in space.
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 lack of oxygen, 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.
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. The second launch sequence served as the speech base for the comm chatter in the Disney rollercoaster Space Mountain.
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