COMMENTARY | As of this writing, Apollo 17, the last expedition to the moon, launched 40 years ago. The final three scheduled Apollo moon landings, Apollo 18, 19, and 20 had been cancelled due to budget cuts.
The question arises, what if Apollo 17 had not been the final moon landing? What if at least some of the planned missions had been carried out?
The idea of Apollo 18 has been the focus of some alternative history. The earliest instance of a fictional Apollo 18 occurred in a 1982 novel by the late James Mitchener entitled “Space” that depicted the early space program. For dramatic purposes, Mitchener depicted some of his fictional astronauts landing on the lunar far side in a fictional Apollo 18 mission that ends in the deaths of two of the astronauts. The novel was made into a five part, 13 hour miniseries broadcast on CBS in 1985.
Apollo 18 also flew in a recent horror movie by the name of “Apollo 18” which is depicted more as “hidden history” (i.e. something that actually happened, but has been kept from the public. In this scenario, the astronauts find something on the lunar surface that eventually results in their deaths.
In a 2002 novel entitled “Ice,” author Shane Johnson depicts an Apollo 19 mission landing at one of the lunar poles to search for ice which scientists have discovered residing in the permanently shadowed craters. The astronauts undergo a divinely inspired experience while on the lunar surface.
A short story by Kathryn Kristine Rusch entitled “Recovering Apollo 8” is based on the premise that the lunar orbital mission of Apollo 8 was lost. A final radio plea by the astronauts inspires the United States to continue space exploration on a far greater scale than occurred in actual history.
“In Saturn Time” by William Barton supposes that Mo Udall is elected in the 1972 presidential election and subsequently decides to restart the Apollo program. The story depicts the flight of Apollo 21.
The author’s own “Children of Apollo” is based on the premise that President Nixon expanded the Apollo program to impose economic and political pressure on the Soviet Union. Most of the novel is set during the mission of Apollo 23 and contains the story of the first women on the moon.
The effects of an expanded moon landing program can be debated. However, especially if it were to have led to bigger and better things like an early Mars expedition, some analysis suggests that it would have had the effect of stimulating economic growth and technology development over and above what occurred in real history. That could only be construed as being a good thing, suggesting that by adjuring further lunar adventures, the United States threw away an opportunity to enhance itself as a nation.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.