The One-Way Mission to the Moon

1962: Fearing that the Soviets were going to beat the United States to the moon, two engineers from Bell Aerosystems Company, John Cord and Leonard Seale, proposed a way to make sure America got there first. Their idea was to send an astronaut on a one-way mission to the moon. After all, it's a lot easier to send a man to the moon if you don't have to worry about bringing him back.

They presented their idea at the meeting of the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences in Los Angeles and also published it in the Dec 1962 issue of Aerospace Engineering.

Read the entire article (pdf)

Their plan was for NASA to first land a series of unmanned cargo vehicles on the moon that would contain all the necessities for a lunar base. An astronaut would then make the journey to the moon and, after landing, assemble the base. Every month NASA would send a new cargo vehicle to resupply the astronaut with essentials — food, water, and oxygen. This would continue until NASA figured out a way to bring him back.

NASA, perhaps sensing that the public would perceive a one-way mission as an admission of defeat rather than a sign of victory, ignored the proposal.

Base for a one-way lunar mission

Although NASA ignored Cord and Seale's plan, it caught the attention of science-fiction writer Hank Searls, serving as the inspiration for his 1964 novel, The Pilgrim Project. Hollywood developed Searls' book into a 1968 movie, Countdown, directed by Robert Altman and starring James Caan and Robert Duvall.

In both the book and movie, NASA succeeds in landing an astronaut on the moon. The astronaut then discovers that the Soviets got there first — but all died.

     Posted By: Alex - Wed Dec 06, 2023
     Category: Spaceflight, Astronautics, and Astronomy | Space Travel | 1960s

I've heard this one before. It is pretty much the plot line for Robert Heinlein's "Rocket Ship Galileo", published in 1947. Sounds like someone's imagination mulled it over and substituted Russians for post-WW2 Germans who still had hopes for the Fatherland.
Posted by KDP on 12/06/23 at 11:56 AM
Um . . . hate to ask this, but . . . in the future, before writing something like that last line, could you put in a spoiler alert?

When the movie first came out, I was excited about the premise and really wanted to see it, but when I saw the cast list, I decided I'd wait until I'd mellowed with age and didn't find one of those leads quite so off-putting. I'm a bit over 70 and aren't quite there yet, but maybe someday . . .

Your revealing a major plot point is a cheap gimmick reduces my urge to see it now.
Posted by Phideaux on 12/06/23 at 11:57 AM
This situation being delivered to NASA was dramatized in the "From the Earth to the Moon" HBO miniseries in the episode "Spider", about the development of the LM. The engineers make a impassioned plea to the administrator who says, "Well, that's...Hmm...That's...No! No, I'm sorry, gentlemen. I'm sorry, but there is no way on God's green earth we'd anything like that. I'm sorry."
Posted by Brewvet on 12/06/23 at 01:07 PM
Phideaux -- I should have thought about spoilers. Sorry! Don't know if it's possible/easy to grey text out for spoilers in html or css. I'll look into it.
Posted by Alex on 12/06/23 at 03:22 PM
Alex -- You don't have to go to that trouble. 'Spoiler Alert' at the start of the line is sufficient if you aren't posting images which are part of the spoiler.

I've been visiting this site since it began (migrated over from "News of the Weird"), and this is the first time it's come up for me, so I wouldn't exactly class it as needing a high priority. 😉
Posted by Phideaux on 12/06/23 at 03:31 PM
Revealing the ending to a 55 YEAR OLD movie doesn´t sound that life threatening.
Posted by F.U.D. in Stockholm on 12/06/23 at 11:55 PM
SPOILER ALERT In Gone With the Wind they burn down Atlanta.
Posted by F.U.D. in Stockholm on 12/07/23 at 02:00 AM
Spoiler alert: it is indeed possible.
Posted by Richard Bos on 12/09/23 at 06:59 AM
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