Who Ended Apollo?

Richard Nixon has frequently been identified as the individual who decided to truncate the Apollo program. As the above account shows, this is not fully the case. Nixon’s personal attitude toward the desirable number of Apollo flights was not consistent. In January 1970, Nixon and his advisors approved a NASA FY1971 budget that anticipated seven more Apollo flights, even though the president had in early December 1969 expressed skepticism regarding “the need to go to the Moon six more times” and “didn’t care about building more [Apollo] hardware.” After the April 1970 Apollo 13 accident, which had a strong emotional impact on Nixon, the president indi­cated that the Apollo program would continue as planned. It was a Nixon decision to hold NASA to the tightly constrained budget that forced a choice between existing missions and getting started on future programs. But it was the NASA leadership that proposed not flying all remaining Apollo missions. In June, reflecting on NASA’s future outlook, George Low had even contemplated canceling four, rather than just two, of the remaining six Apollo flights. He noted that “if we make a major program change like this, we will attribute it to the budgetary situation and to the manpower situation in NASA, and not to the fact that it may programmatically also make more sense.”11 The United States decided in 1970 to retreat from exploring the Moon; that decision had several parents, not just Richard Nixon.