I’m not sure whether my selection this week should be considered science fiction or science fact. Everything in both variations(more on this in a bit) is grounded in science fact at the time of writing, though the plot was fantastic at the time. Some of the happenings with our space program since way back then make it an all too possible scenario.
MAROONED was first published in 1964 and I read it out of the school library. Martin Caidin, the author, was an authority on aeronautics and aviation, twice winning the Aviation/Space Writers Award. A pilot himself, and apparently somewhat of a rogue, his exploits are too numerous to list here. He’s perhaps better known for his novel CYBORG and it’s follow-up, OPERATION NUKE, which were the basis for the television series The Six Million Dollar Man.
His novels were noted for their accuracy in anything to do with flying or space. In the book, he stated that people in NASA looked over the manuscript and told him he’d only made one error in procedures they might have done had such an event as the plot happened. They wouldn’t tell him which.
This novel was exciting for a fifteen year old boy that dreamed of being one of those astronauts. They were the heroes way back then. I couldn’t have imagined anything more exciting at the time. Nor a few years later when we were landing on the moon.
Now on to the plot.
It’s early in America’s space program. The Mercury program is in full swing. When the astronaut tries to reenter for a landing, there’s a mechanical failure in the retro rockets. The capsule is stuck in orbit with a limited amount of air.
This starts a tense race between America and Russia to rescue him. Russia wants to save him for the propaganda value. The astronaut’s best friend just wants to save him. He takes off in an experimental new capsule not really ready to be used, the Apollo spacecraft.
The tense cooperation between the two opposing astro/cosmonauts showed, to me, a much better understanding of the way the world should run than the politicians on both sides back on Earth.
I mentioned two variations earlier. In 1969, a film was released that starred a stellar cast: Gregory Peck, Richard Crenna, David Janssen, James Franciscus, and Gene Hackman. It was updated to where the ship in trouble was the Apollo with two astronauts and an entirely new rescue craft was devised. Caidin completely rewrote MAROONED to be more in line with the film version(which was punked on Mystery Science Theater; I never understood that. It wasn’t a bad movie).
It’s been forty-five years since I read the original version and forty since the rewritten one. I’d imagine they both might be a bit dated in the technology these days, but still worth a read just for the glimpse into the workings of our early space program.