After Apollo 13’s failure, congressional interest in NASA’s lunar program declined significantly and led to cancellation of Apollo 18 and 19.
Even after these cancellations, several other planned missions remained. These included the H and J missions. While H missions would have involved short duration stays on the moon with only two LEVAs (moonwalks), J missions would have made three landings.
Apollo 13 astronauts would have enjoyed three-day stays on the lunar surface using Lunar Roving Vehicles to explore further – such J-class missions were scheduled every eight months.
An oxygen tank explosion 56 hours into their mission ended their hopes of reaching the moon; but their tale remains an impressive testament to NASA’s innovative designers, engineers, and scientists, who were able to save them and return them safely home.
Harrison Schmitt, the geologist on this mission, advocated strongly for landing at Gassendi on the far side of the Moon – this would have marked astronauts’ first steps onto another planet’s surface outside a spacecraft.
After Apollo 13 successfully returned, Congress cut NASA’s FY 1971 appropriations, cancelling all remaining H-class missions including Apollos 18 and 19. NASA also cancelled Apollo 20, scheduled to land at Fra Mauro site; after the Apollo 13 tragedy this flight had to be scrapped due to fears it might compete with Soviet plans for December’s Zond circumlunar flight.
NASA had reached its goal with the successful landing of Apollo 11, but suddenly national interest in space travel declined along with funding that had previously supported their programs.
The Apollo program’s end was decided for several reasons, including technology reaching its maximum development. Political will was another consideration – with only US funds going into space race when necessary to achieve strategic goals; once this goal had been accomplished, further research and technological development became less of a priority.
The final Apollo missions were postponed until 1973. Apollo 18’s planned crew included Commander Dick Gordon, Command Module Pilot Vance Brand and Lunar Module Pilot Jack Schmitt (a geologist). Following cancellation, Schmitt would go on to fly with both Apollo-Soyuz Test Project as well as three Space Shuttle missions as LMP.
After Apollo 11, NASA planned for further lunar missions through Apollo 20. Unfortunately, within six months after Armstrong and Aldrin first set foot on the moon in July 1969, Apollo 13 was cancelled due to a ruptured oxygen tank which nearly killed its crew; President Nixon wanted to divert Saturn V rockets towards Skylab instead, so no further risks were taken with astronauts’ lives.
Following the end of the Cold War, funding constraints and diminishing national support for space exploration diminished considerably. Research-oriented space flights no longer held as much importance than making political statements like landing on the moon.
Pete Conrad would have led Apollo 20, along with Stuart Roosa as command module pilot and Jack Lousma as lunar module pilot, with them planned to land in Copernicus crater. Unfortunately, due to pressure from scientific researchers geologist Schmitt was moved up from Apollo 17 and therefore took Joe Engle’s place as lunar module pilot instead.
Apollo 16 mission was cancelled due to budgetary and safety considerations and landing site was changed from lunar linear rilles and craters study to Copernicus Crater instead. Originally intended, this mission aimed to study lunar linear rilles and craters but this had to be changed due to budget cuts and safety issues.
NASA used a rotation system when selecting astronauts for missions; backup crew members would serve three missions before becoming prime crew on their next one. As a result, those scheduled for Apollo missions that had to be cancelled all found themselves flying other missions: whether another Apollo flight, Skylab mission or space shuttle journey.
At its heart, cancelling these three missions wasn’t about money but rather shifting priorities. After Apollo 13 failed, public interest in seeing men land on the Moon had diminished and Congress started looking towards other projects like Space Shuttle program instead of keeping these missions going. Furthermore, cancellation freed up Saturn V rockets which could then be used to launch Skylab orbital station.
After Apollo 11 successfully landed on the moon in July 1969, NASA’s loftier goals – such as building a lunar base and sending humans to Mars – began to gradually be scaled back. Budgetary concerns and declining public interest both played major roles in limiting NASA’s lunar efforts.
On January 4, 1970 – eight months after Armstrong and Aldrin left humanity’s first lunar footprints – NASA officially cancelled Apollo 20 and 19 missions. Apollo 18 had planned to land at Schroter’s Valley on February 1972 while Apollo 19 would land in Hyginus Rille in December 1973; both missions had originally been designed as H-type missions but were converted to J-type due to longer stays on the lunar surface and three spacewalks.
Renumbering missions also altered crew composition; geologist Harrison Schmitt was supposed to serve as backup commander of Apollo 18 but ended up flying on Apollo 17, dislodging engineer Joe Engle from lunar module pilot duties and giving way for Stuart Roosa with Jack Lousma as CDR and Don Lind as LMP respectively.
Apollo 11 and 12 proved successful; however, their successor missions of Apollos 18, 19, and 20 were cancelled due to budget restrictions, with government losing interest in human space exploration as a result.
NASA managed to survive this setback with several changes, chief among them restructuring the mission crews. For instance, during earlier Apollo missions Commander Deke Slayton employed a rotation system whereby astronauts would serve as backup for three missions before becoming prime crew members; after Apollo 13 he moved away from this and into a more stable assignment system without dead-end backup jobs.
Congress also reduced NASA’s fiscal year 1971 appropriations budget, forcing NASA to cancel Apollos 18 and 19. Both H-type missions that required longer stays on the moon with three spacewalks had been scheduled to land on Hyginus Crater and Gassendi Crater respectively; upon being cancelled, geologist Schmitt was promoted to Apollo 17 to meet scientific community demands; replacing Joe Engle as lunar module pilot.
NASA was forced to cancel Apollos 18 and 19 in response to Apollo 13’s mechanical issues and decreasing public interest in lunar exploration, after declining public enthusiasm for further lunar exploration. These J-missions had originally been scheduled for launch every four months from July 1972 – originally landing at Copernicus Crater studying lunar linear rilles and craters; their crew would have included CDR Fred Haise, CMP Bill Pogue, and LMP Jerry Carr.
Budget constraints were one reason these flights were cancelled; another factor was an acceleration of Apollo 14-15-16 mission schedule and diverting resources away from Saturn V rockets towards Skylab US space station.
Some astronauts believed the cancelled Apollos would not have made much difference to humanity’s quest for knowledge, such as Harrison Schmitt who would have served as Apollo 20’s commander if launched; being trained as a geologist himself, Harrison Schmitt became the first trained scientist ever to go into space travel.
After Apollo 13’s mechanical missteps, public enthusiasm for lunar exploration diminished significantly and Congress began allocating funding away from lunar exploration and toward Space Shuttle programs instead.
In January 1970, Apollo 18 and 19 were cancelled due to planned landing sites at Hyginus Rille and Copernicus. It is widely believed that the original backup crew for Apollo 20 would have included Roosa as CDR, Lousma as CMP and Lind as LMP – three individuals who went on to space flight, such as Roosa commanding Skylab 4, Pogue Carr flying Space Shuttle approach and landing test flights before Lind making his one and only spaceflight STS-51 in 1985.
NASA had to cancel these missions due to competing priorities: an initial Saturn V rocket and Command Module had already been contracted for Skylab space station, while cancelled missions that resembled Apollo J missions that included professional scientists for increased science return were cancelled as well; astronaut Harrison Schmitt was due for one such flight but instead rode Apollo 17 instead, making history by becoming only scientist ever to step foot on the Moon and later serving as senator.