A 1969 sci-fi thriller film directed by John Sturges, adapted from the novel of the same name by Martin Caidin.
Three American astronauts (Gene Hackman, Richard Crenna, and James Franciscus) returning from a long space station mission suddenly face imminent death when their spacecraft malfunctions and they are stuck in orbit with a very limited oxygen supply. On the ground, Chief astronaut Ted Dougherty (David Janssen) breaks all the rules to implement a mission to rescue the seemingly doomed adventurers. Charles Keith (Gregory Peck) is the ground commander in Houston who must decide whether or not to approve the dangerous rescue mission.
For the trope related to characters being marooned, see Robinsonade.
For the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version (shown under the title Space Travelers), please go to the episode recap page. It's the only movie ever riffed on MST3k to have won an Oscar (for Best Special Effects), and possiblynote the highest-budgeted one.
This film provides examples of:
- Artistic License History: Plenty:
- For one thing, the ill-fated mission is launched on a Saturn V rocket. The rocket was grossly overpowered for a Low-Earth Orbit mission. Logically, it probably would have been launched on a Saturn IB. The mission was launched on a Saturn V probably for the Rule of Awesome, as nothing could compare to a Saturn V launch.
- For another, the Soviet spacecraft is clearly a Vostok craft. By the time this film was released, Soyuz was the USSR's manned spacecraft, though this was probably done for the sake of drama.
- At the same time, NASA put an awful lot of faith in the Soviet cosmonaut not to commit an act of espionage by taking mental notes of the Apollo spacecraft's interior, as such mental notes could easily be used by the Soviets to improve their own manned spacecraft. There was also lot of faith that the Soviets wouldn't send up a later manned mission to investigate and reverse-engineer the Apollo spacecraft (a la Buran).
- Casual Danger Dialog: The astronauts' wives are instructed to speak to the men calmly, to put them at ease. One wife discusss her new shoes and the fact that she misplaced the insurance bill. Notably, the astronauts aren't buying it, but they put on brave faces (well, except for Lloyd) for the sake of the women.
- Cold Equation: The rescue ship is on its way, but the stranded astronauts don't have enough oxygen left to survive until it arrives. After running the numbers, Keith determines they can get two of the stranded men back with the sacrifice of the third. The crew of Ironman takes the choice out of Keith's hands, absolving the ground crew of responsibility, to decide themselves. Although Lloyd offered first, Pruett beats him to it by going out to "repair the engine." By the time the others realize what's going on, he's already out of reach. And then rips his pressure suit for good measure.
- Creator Cameo: Martin Caidin, author of the original novel, appears as a Cape Canaveral reporter.
- Cyanide Pill: Downplayed; the astronauts have pills which act as a mild depressant, relaxing them (and keeping heart rate and respiration down) so that they will use up less oxygen. Guess what The Load does with his?
- Disaster Movie: Not generally marketed as one, but the film does seem like an Unbuilt Trope for The '70s' disaster craze. All-Star Cast? Yup. Group of people trapped in a deadly Closed Circle? You betcha. The Load? Right here. Death of a main character played by a major star? There he goes. Unconventional and risky rescue attempt with a Million-to-One Chance, led by a Cowboy Cop-esque hero who says Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!? Check, check and cheque. About the only boxes this film doesn't tick off are that it has a small scale (only three people are endangered) and it doesn't show characters with domestic issues to work through (some domestic issues do crop up, but these are a case of Casual Danger Dialog).
- Dying Declaration of Love: Pruett gives one to his wife. Notably, he's not dying, but he's covering his bases. Good thing he did.
- The Film of the Book: Which was updated by the author (originally it was a Mercury mission, not Apollo).
- Foreshadowing: Film footage of the astronauts working on the space station shows that Lloyd has been mucking up repairs and generally having a hard time focusing on his work (due to the stresses of working in space), which hints toward his eventual freak-out.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Jim Pruett sacrifices his life to preserve enough oxygen for the other two to survive.
- Hope Spot: A Soviet spacecraft arrives, but is unable to do much because it's only a one-man vessel. He is able to provide enough extra oxygen for the two survivors to make it until they can move to the rescue ship.
- The Load / The Millstone: Lloyd fails to take his relaxo-pill when ordered to do so; later, he has a full-blown panic attack which (presumably) wastes a good deal of their limited oxygen supply. To his credit, though, when the Cold Equation plan is discussed, he is the first to volunteer.
- Red Herring (pardon the pun): As a Soviet spacecraft approaches, the astronauts are warned to be on their guard, as they don't know what the cosmonaut will do. As it turns out, he's coming to try to help.
- Tempting Fate: Early in the film, Lloyd says calmly "We'll make it." When things go pear-shaped, he's the first to crack.