Astronaut, The

Tagged: Film

Made-for-tv film (1972). Universal Television for ABC-TV. Produced by Harve Bennett. Directed by Robert Michael Lewis. Written by Gerald Di Pego, Charles Kuenstle and Richard Biheller from an original story by Kuenstle and Biheller. Cast includes Susan Clark, Jackie Cooper and Monte Markham. 73 minutes. Colour.

Set in 1980, the first US mission to Mars with lone astronaut Colonel Brice Randolph (Markham) ends in tragedy when unknown bacteria or undetected gases in the Martian atmosphere seep through his spacesuit and kill him. To prevent the space programme – headed by Kurt Anderson (Cooper) – from being cancelled, Randolph's craft returns under remote control while a lookalike test pilot, Eddie Reese (also Markham), is trained to impersonate the late astronaut. The plan is for "Randolph" to die in a pre-arranged boating accident after his supposed return to Earth, thus allowing Reese to re-surface as himself. Randolph's wife Gail (Clark) soon realizes Reese is not her husband, but finds herself falling in love with him and goes along with the deception. She joins him on the boat so as to "die" with Randolph, then take up a new identity and marry Reese. However, encouraged by the apparent success of the US effort, the Soviet Union decides to launch its own mission to Mars. The US government is prepared to allow the cosmonauts to die on Mars rather than warn them, leading Reese and Gail to come forward with the truth.

Presented as another genre entry in the long-running ABC Movie of the Week, this largely-forgotten film is a major curiosity, being aired as it was when the Apollo missions to the Moon were still under way. Real-life astronaut Wally Schirra appears in a cameo role as himself, oddly considering the very negative view of NASA presented here. A strong case can be made that Capricorn One (1978) plagiarized this film's central situation. [GFi]

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