Canceling Apollo 16 and 17

By the end of October, NASA had learned of the possibility that Apollo 16 and 17 might be canceled, though it is not clear that the agency knew that the can­celation directive came directly from President Nixon. Fletcher wrote a long let­ter to Cap Weinberger on November 3, putting forth the case for not canceling the missions. He told Weinberger that “if broader considerations, nevertheless, lead to a decision to cancel Apollo 16 and 17, the consequences would be much more serious than the loss of a major scientific opportunity. Unless compen­satory actions are taken at the same time to offset and minimize the impact, this decision could be a blow from which the space program might not easily recover.” Fletcher proposed as a rationale for canceling the missions “that, in these times of pressing domestic needs, the manned space program should be earth-oriented instead of exploration and science-oriented.” Not surprisingly, he suggested as an offsetting action “an early go-ahead for the space shuttle.” Science adviser David chimed in at the end of November, urging the president to retain the mission in the NASA program, telling Nixon that “the cost of completing these missions is $118 million in FY 73, less than one-half of one per cent of the total cost of the Apollo investment. . . These missions will pro­vide over fifty per cent of the total productive time on the lunar surface” and that “further cancellation at this time would be seized upon not only by skeptics in the science and engineering communities but also by many staunch supporters of the Administration as unwarranted and unwise.” Apparently David had told his associates that he would resign if the two missions were canceled.33

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