The Moonwalkers Who Could Have Been
In the three and a half years between July, 1969 and December, 1972,
twelve people walked on the moon. That fact is now well known. What
is less well know is that there were fourteen others that could equally
well have done so. Most people know the story of Apollo 13, which was
sent to the moon with the intention of landing. But that accounts
only for two of the other possible moonwalkers. Who were the other
twelve, and what basis do we have for saying that they were possible
moonwalkers? That is the purpose of this page.
People who said no to a possible moonwalk
- Frank Borman
- According to both Slayton and Borman, Borman elected to retire
rather than retrain on the LM in 7 months for
Apollo 11 (at the time, Borman had no LLRV/LLTV experience).
He informed Slayton of his intentions before flying Apollo 8,
so he was not actually offered the Apollo 11 mission, but
Slayton says that
he would have considered sending the Apollo 8 crew on Apollo 11 if
Borman had been willing. Borman further says that he was not
flying any mission after Apollo 11 because his primary motivation
was flight testing rather than science. Borman never flew in
space again after Apollo 8, his second mission.
- Jim McDivitt
- According to Slayton, McDivitt was offered the LMP seat on Apollo 14
with Sheppard commanding the mission. Slayton says that
McDivitt declined the offer, at least in part
because he did not wish to accept the mission if not in command.
McDivitt, in his NASA oral history, says that he could have had
command of Apollo 13 if he had wanted it. The Apollo 13 and 14 crews
were swapped prior to their official assignment, so it is not clear
which of the two missions McDivitt was referring to. Whichever
account is correct, it is clear that McDivitt could have had a
prime crew assignment on a lunar landing mission if he had
wanted it. At one point, Slayton also considered assigning the
entire Apollo 9 crew (which McDivitt commanded) to Apollo 12, but he
later decided against that when Borman declined to consider taking the
Apollo 11 mission. McDivitt never flew in space again after
Apollo 9, his second mission.
- Mike Collins
- According to both Slayton and Collins, Collins was offered command
of the Apollo 14 backup crew, which would have led to command
of Apollo 17. He declined that opportunity, and never flew in
space again after Apollo 11, his second mission.
Others Who Could Have Had a Moonwalk
These people lost a good chance at a moonwalk due to some event
that was beyond their control that could reasonably have come out the
- Jim Lovell
- Commanded Apollo 13. Failed to land due to oxygen tank explosion.
Never flew in space again after Apollo 13, his fourth mission.
- Fred Haise
- LMP on Apollo 13. Failed to land due to oxygen tank explosion.
Commanded the Apollo 16 backup crew, and in line for command of
prior to its cancellation due to budget reductions. Haise
commanded a Shuttle Approach and Landing Test crew, but he
never flew in space
again after Apollo 13, his first mission.
- Joe Engle
- According to multiple sources, Engle was nominated as Apollo 17
LMP by Slayton
and disapproved by NASA HQ in order to provide an LMP slot for
Schmitt. This would not have been necessary if Schmitt (at the time,
the Apollo 15 backup crew LMP) had replaced Irwin to fly as LMP on the
Apollo 15 crew, an option had been considered (but rejected) at
the time as a way of getting Schmitt to the moon, for which there
was considerable political pressure. Earlier,
while Engle was serving as backup LMP for Apollo 14, Slayton
had raised the possibility of replacing Mitchell with Engle as LMP on
Apollo 14 as a threat to get Mitchell to agree to serve on the backup
crew for Apollo 16 after his flight. Mitchell then agreed to do so, so
the threat was not carried out. There are therefore three decisions,
any one of which would have resulted in Engle going to the moon had
they come out differently. Engle Eventually commanded two
- Dick Gordon
- Commanded the Apollo 15 backup crew, and therefore in line for
command of Apollo 18
prior to its cancellation due to budget reductions.
Gordon never flew in space again after Apollo 12, his second mission.
- Jerry Carr
- According to Slayton, internally selected as LMP for Apollo 16 backup
crew, which would have put him in line for LMP on Apollo 19. Moved
to the Skylab program upon cancellation of Apollo 19 due to budget
reductions, which occurred prior to the announcement of the Apollo
16 backup crew. Carr later commanded Skylab 4, his only mission.
- Tom Stafford
- According to multiple sources, some consideration was given to
assigning the first lunar landing to Apollo 10, which Stafford
commanded. It was ultimately decided that Apollo 10 could land
no more than one month sooner than Apollo 11 could (because Apollo
11's lighter LM was required, and because the Apollo 10 crew
needed some additional training), and that the additional
tracking experience from a second lunar mission would be useful
when planning the first landing. Apollo 10 therefore flew a lunar
orbital mission as originally planned. Stafford later flew again as
CDR of the ASTP mission, his fourth mission.
- Bill Anders
- Anders could have landed on the moon if Borman's crew had been assigned
to Apollo 11 upon their return from the Apollo 8 mission since he was
the LMP on that crew. Anders served as the backup CMP for Apollo 11,
and was offered the CMP position on Apollo 13. This could have led to
command of Apollo 19 (had that mission not been cancelled), but
Anders (correctly) believed that the program was unlikely to
last that long. He never flew in space again after Apollo 8,
his only mission.
- Rusty Schweickart
- According to Slayton, Schweickart would have been considered as
for Apollo 12, which would have put him in line to fly as LMP on
Apollo 15. Because of a serious incident of motion sickness during
Apollo 9, this did not seem to Slayton to be a viable option.
Little was known about Space Adaptation Syndrome at that time;
it is now known that about one third of all astronauts will
experience similar effects during their first few days in space.
People who would likely have walked on the moon if they had lived:
- Gus Grissom
- Commanded Apollo 1, and according to Slayton in line for command of the
first lunar landing mission. Died in the Apollo 1 fire after
flying two missions (one Mercury and one Gemini).
- C.C. Williams
- Backup LMP on Apollo 9, in line to fly as LMP on Apollo 12. Died
in a T-38 crash before Apollo 9 flew. Never flew in space.
- Charlie Basset
- According to Slayton, would have been CMP on Apollo 8. This was the
slot filled by Lovell, who flew as CDR on Apollo 13 as a result of
the normal rotation of CMP's from early Apollo missions to a later
landing mission as CDR. Died in a T-38 crash while assigned to
the Gemini 9 crew. Never flew in space.
Beyond those fourteen, there were also a number of other people with
some nontrivial chance of having walked on the moon if some things
had been different. Here are some of the more obvious cases in that
- Gordon Cooper
- According to Cooper, offered CDR on the Apollo 13 backup crew,
which may have led to CDR on Apollo 16. Declined because he
believed that office politics would result in substitution of
someone else when the Apollo 16 crew was named after Apollo 13 flew.
Cooper was not assigned to command Apollo 13 after having
commanded the backup crew for Apollo 10, and Slayton says that he had
no further plans for Cooper after Gemini 5. Both of those facts
suggest that Cooper's perception may have been correct.
- Ted Freeman
- Freeman was selected with the 1963 group and (according to the
Hall of Fame timeline) designated in 1964 by Slayton as one of
six LMP's for an early mission. 7 of the 11 members of the 1963
group that survived did land on the moon or were clearly in
line to do so, so it seems reasonable to expect Freeman to have
been offered a similar opportunity if he had lived. Died in a T-38
crash before assignment to a crew.
- John Bull
- According to Slayton, Bull would have been one of his early picks
from the 1966 astronaut class as
an LMP. Bull was trained as an LM specialist and assigned to the
support crew for the second flight that was planned to carry
a lunar module (which later became Apollo 8), but he was
medically disqualified prior to assignment to a backup crew and
never flew in space.
- Ed White
- White was assigned as CMP on Apollo 1, but there were no
specific plans at the time
of the fire for a follow-on mission for him. He was a member of the
1962 astronaut class, for which all members that survived were
possible moonwalkers (and for which 4 were actual moonwalkers).
It therefore seems unlikely that White
would not have been offered a moonwalk at some point. He died in
the Apollo 1 fire after only a single Gemini mission.
- Ken Mattingly
- Originally assigned as CMP on Apollo 13, making him first CMP
from his 1966 astronaut class to be assigned to a mission and
the first person that would have flown solo on an Apollo
mission without prior rendezvous experience if Apollo 13 been
had flown as planned. Normal rotation would have made him
eligible to command the Apollo 16 backup crew (which Fred Haise
from Apollo 13 actually did), which would have put Mattingly in
line for command of Apollo 19 (had it not been cancelled for
budget reasons). This set of possibilities unraveled early
when Mattingly was removed from the Apollo 13 mission because
he had no documented immunity to measles, to which he might
have been exposed. He flew as CMP on Apollo 16 and commanded
two Shuttle Missions.
- Donn Eisele
- According to the Astronaut Hall of Fame timeline, at the time
of the Apollo 1 fire, Slayton planned to assign Eisele as LMP
for the F mission (which became Apollo 10) with Grissom as
commander. Had Grissom commanded the first lunar landing,
Eisele would therefore have been a logical choice as LMP.
Eisele flew on Apollo 7, but he was not seriously considered
for later flights. According to Stafford, Eisele was asked to
leave after serving as CMP on the Apollo 10 backup crew because
of declining performance. Apollo 7 was his only mission.
Members of the 1963 Astronaut Group ("The Fourteen") Designated at
Some Point as Lunar Module Pilots
- Walt Cunningham, Apollo 7
- Bill Anders, Apollo 8 (offered Apollo 13 CMP)
- Rusty Schweickart, Apollo 9 (later unflyable due to SAS)
- Gene Cernan, Apollo 10 (commanded Apollo 17)
- Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 (landed)
- Al Bean, Apollo 12 (landed)
- C.C. Williams (died in a T-38 crash while on the Apollo 9 backup crew,
in line for Apollo 12)
- Roger Chaffee (died in the Apollo 1 fire, slated to back up Apollo 8,
and thus in line for Apollo 13)
- Ted Freeman (died in a T-38 crash before assignment to a crew)
- Charlie Basset (died in a T-38 crash while training for Gemini 9)
- Dave Scott (flew as CMP on Apollo 9 and then commanded Apollo 15)
- Mike Collins (flew as CMP on Apollo 11)
Members of the 1966 Astronaut Group ("The Original 19") Trained as
Lunar Module Specialists
- Fred Haise, Apollo 13
- Ed Mitchell, Apollo 14
- Jim Irwin, Apollo 15
- Charlie Duke, Apollo 16
- Joe Engle, trained for Apollo 17 (replaced, flew 2 Shuttle missions
- Gerry Carr, would likely have flown Apollo 19 (cancelled, flew on Skylab)
- John Bull (medically disqualified before assignment to a crew)
- Jack Lousma (flew as CMP on Skylab and commanded a Shuttle mission)
- Don Lind (flew once as a mission specialist on Shuttle)
- Deciding where to stop a list like this is a judgment call.
After all, I could have walked on the moon myself if NASA had been
funded to fly 20 more Apollo missions at a rate of two per
year, if they then ran a competition to select a new college
graduate with no flight experience to serve as LMP on the last
mission, and if I was then selected for that mission. But none
of those possibilities strike me as particularly likely! In
deciding whether someone should be on the list above, I have
generally asked whether there was an alternate outcome that
might have reasonably occurred that would have resulted in a
reasonable likelihood of that person walking on the Moon. Both
criteria are, of course, themselves judgment calls. The
people in the last category (some nontrivial chance) are
at best debatable by those criteria. The next one I would have
listed if I were to stretch further would be Elliot See,
who was in the 1962 Astronaut class that produced 4
moonwalkers (and 7 possible moonwalkers, of the 7 that
survived). Slayton clearly had concerns about See that
resulted in deleting him from a spacewalk on Gemini 8, however, and
after See died in a T-38 crash Slayton believed that the crash was
consistent with his assessment of See's flying skills. This offers
little confidence that Slayton would have assigned See to a lunar
landing mission. Next would be Jack Lousma, who the Astronaut
Hall of Fame lists as a possible LMP for Apollo 20. But Apollo
20 never was too likely to have flown, since
its Saturn 5 was needed for Skylab and no more Saturn 5's were
being built. Working further down the list,
Slayton says that Don Lind was moved to Skylab
(where he never flew; he later flew once on Shuttle as a
mission specialist rather than as a pilot) after Apollo 20
was canceled. Among the 1966 class of CMP's, Stu
Roosa was the only other one that was assigned to early enough
missions to have subsequently commanded a landing mission (had Apollo
20 not been cancelled to make it possible to fly Skylab).
- The mission numbers used above reflect the mission that was
actually flown. Three cases of mission renumbering occurred
during the Apollo program. Apollo 8 and 9 were swapped, so
assignment to the "Apollo 8 crew" actually resulted in flying
on Apollo 9. I have consistently referred to that as the
"Apollo 9 crew" throughout for simplicity, since that is how
the crew is known today. The Apollo 13 and 14 crews were also
swapped; that swap occurred after the crews were formed but
before the official crew announcements. Finally, the
cancellation of Apollo 18 resulted in skipping what would have
been the H mission that was originally assigned to Apollo 15.
The original Apollo 15 lunar module never flew, and the Apollo
15 crew picked up a J mission with a more capable Lunar Module
that had previously been assigned to Apollo 16. The same
effect cascaded all the way through Apollo 17. This creates no
confusion regarding crew assignments since the crews stayed
with the same mission number, but references to the "Apollo 15
Lunar Module" are sometimes confusing because one of them is
still on Earth (at the Kennedy Space Center).
Last modified: Sat Jun 5 13:01:14 2004