Twenty-five years after the return of Apollo 18, filmmakers David Dodson and Mark Dodson sat down with those most intimately connected to a tragedy that will forever be associated with the end of America's manned exploration of the moon.
Anticipating resistance from the mission's only surviving astronaut, Barton Cunningham, the Dodsons were surprised to find Cunningham eager to speak about events many have preferred to let fade from memory and history.
Others associated with the story of Apollo 18 were cooperative to varying degrees, but together they painted a picture of events more vast and mysterious than has been known to date.
Commander, Apollo 18
Edward Stanford Lovett (1933–1973) was born in Hyde Park, New York, to the prominent New York Lovetts, an illustrious family in the political history of the State of New York during the 20th century. After declining to follow both his father and grandfather in elected office, Lovett enlisted in the United States Air Force, eventually flying combat missions in the Korean War.
Recruited by NASA in 1962, Lovett flew two Gemini missions, both as Command Pilot, and one with Barton Cunningham as Pilot. Cunningham and Lovett, along with Al Borden, would later crew the final Apollo lunar mission, Apollo 18. Ed Lovett died in 1973 and is survived by his wife, Joan Joyce Lovett.
Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 18
Albert Robert Borden (1938-1973) grew up in Monterey, California, and attended the University of Southern California, where his boyish enthusiasm and brilliant mind resulted in a doctoral degree in geology faster than anyone in USC academic history. Borden’s research in Antarctica meteorites caught NASA’s attention and in 1969 he was inducted into the NASA astronaut corps.
Borden rapidly gained national fame as the “darling astronaut of the corps” and appeared on a number of national magazine covers. While disappointed that he would not be the first trained geologist to explore another planet, Borden nevertheless brought his customary fervor to his assignment as lunar module pilot for Apollo 18. Borden died in China in 1973 and is survived by his wife, Katherine Parrish-Borden.
Command Module Pilot, Apollo 18
At various times Barton “Bo” Cunningham (b. 1943) has been one of the most respected pilots in the NASA astronaut corps and one of its most infamous. An early, celebrated career as a test pilot together with a reputation for intellectual agility landed Cunningham at NASA in 1962 along with fellow class member Ed Lovett. Lovett often credited Cunningham with saving his life during their 1965 Gemini mission, during which Cunningham corrected a return trajectory calculation that, undetected, would have resulted in mission failure and loss of the crew.
Following the scandalous conclusion of his final spaceflight – 1973’s Apollo 18 – Cunningham retired from NASA. Since that time, Cunningham has lived in near-anonymity, appearing in public only once, in connection with the 1978 publication of his book about the Apollo 18 mission. The Landing marks the first time since 1973 that Cunningham has spoken publicly about his role in the incident.
NASA Flight Director
Frederick Arthur Calder (b. 1933) traveled an unusual road to his storied career as a NASA flight director. After completing a masters in physics at Cornell University, Calder was graduated from Harvard Law School in 1959. Calder subsequently joined legendary New York law firm Phillips, Nizer, Benjamin, Krim & Ballon. Amid rumors that Calder had ghost-written significant passages of Louis Nizer’s well-known memoir, My Life in Court, Calder departed the firm to join NASA as special counsel.
The space agency soon realized that Calder’s facility in physics and his administrative brilliance made him uniquely suited to mission planning and execution, and he joined Eugene Kranz, Christopher Kraft, and John Hodge as one of the Apollo program’s early and eminent flight directors. Calder retired from NASA in 1975 and has since been one of its most outspoken former employees. Calder currently lives in Valley Village, California.
wife of Al Borden
In 1968, drawn by the countercultural currents of the 1960s, Katherine “Kate” Parrish-Borden (b. 1950) moved from her home in Virginia to the west coast of Florida, where she lived among the so-called “Cocoa Creatures,” an itinerant commune located at various times in Daytona, Melbourne, and Cocoa Beach. It was in Cocoa Beach that Parrish met Al Borden, then training for his as-yet unassigned Apollo mission. Parrish and Borden wed in 1973, just prior to the launch of Apollo 18, Borden’s only mission for NASA.
Today Parrish-Borden is known primarily as the widow of astronaut Borden and as one of five members of the Cocoa Creatures blamed for provoking incidents of violence at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival in California in 1969.
FBI Agent, retired
Michael “Mike” Anthony Russo (b. 1940) began his long career at the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1971. In 1973 he was appointed by then-director William Ruckelshaus to lead the investigation into the Apollo 18 incident. Continuing the inquiry under Clarence Kelley, Russo developed the most incendiary evidence in the case, evidence some believe to have been hidden by the President’s commission - an investigation that drew a different conclusion as to the cause of the disaster.
Russo submitted his report to Director Kelley in an “unfinished” form. The report was leaked to The New York Times and The Times subsequently lost a 1974 pre-emptive lawsuit brought against it by the Department of Justice to prevent publication of the “unfinished” report. Despite the suppression of his work on the Apollo 18 case, Russo remained with the FBI for twenty-one additional years, until he retired in 1995.
Mrs. JOAN LOVETT
wife of Ed Lovett
Joan Joyce Lovett (b. 1936) has described her first encounter with future husband Ed Lovett as “fate.” While on a Hudson River boating trip with classmates from Rutgers University, then-Joan Hampton was involved in an accident that resulted in her group running aground on the shore of the Lovett family estate in Hyde Park, New York. According to Ms. Lovett, a young Ed Lovett watched the mishap from the beach and then led the rescue of the shipwrecked young women, providing them with dry clothes and lodging.
In recent years Joan Lovett née Hampton has been an increasingly blunt champion for her husband’s legacy, which Ms. Lovett contends was tarnished by the Pellarin Commission, the government body appointed to investigate the Apollo 18 accident. Today Ms. Lovett is Chairperson Emeritus of LovettSport, a company she founded following the death of her husband that specializes in camping supplies.
U.S. Congressman, retired
Peter “Pete” Pellarin (b. 1934) ran for public office first in 1968 when he was elected to the Boston City Council. Pellarin ran a campaign in which he aggressively targeted the Boston Corporation Counsel’s office for what Pellarin felt was the over-zealous prosecution of his father on charges of tax fraud related to the family’s used car dealership. Rumors surrounding Pellarin’s personal life contributed to his failure to be reelected to the City Council, after which Pellarin ran for – and won – a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the Massachusetts 9th congressional district.
Personally appointed by President Richard Nixon to lead the eponymous commission that would investigate the Apollo 18 accident, Pellarin delivered a report that largely exonerated command module pilot Barton Cunningham from responsibility for the outcome of the mission. Now retired from his lobbying firm, Pellarin lives with his wife in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and remains a controversial figure in the Apollo 18 story.
sister of Bo Cunningham
Sandra “Sandy” Cunningham-Bates (b. 1947) was raised with her only sibling, Bo Cunningham, in Long Grove, Illinois. A mathematics prodigy, Ms. Cunningham was recruited by Massachusetts Institute of Technology mathematician Norman Levinson to assist in his work on Fourier transforms, but declined the offer and after graduating from high school remained in Illinois, where she continues to reside today.