Destination Moon (film)

Destination Moon
Destination Moon DVD.jpg
DVD cover
Directed byIrving Pichel
Produced byGeorge Pal
Screenplay by
Based on1947 novel Rocket Ship Galileo
by Robert A. Heinlein
Music byLeith Stevens
CinematographyLionel Lindon
Edited byDuke Goldstone
George Pal Productions
Distributed byEagle-Lion Classics
Release date
  • June 27, 1950 (1950-06-27) (United States)
Running time
91 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$5 million[2] or $1.3 (US)[3]

Destination Moon (a.k.a. Operation Moon) is a 1950 American Technicolor space exploration science fiction film drama, independently made by George Pal, directed by Irving Pichel, that stars John Archer, Warner Anderson, Tom Powers, and Dick Wesson. The film was distributed in the United States and the United Kingdom by Eagle-Lion Classics.

Destination Moon was the first major U.S. science fiction film to deal with the dangers inherent in human space travel and the possible difficulties landing on and safely returning from our only natural satellite.

The film's premise is that private industry will mobilize, finance, and manufacture the first spacecraft to the Moon, and that the U.S. government will be forced to purchase or lease the technology to remain the dominant power in space. Different industrialists cooperate to support the private venture. In the final scene, as the crew approaches the Earth, the traditional "The End" title card heralds the dawn of the coming Space Age: "This is THE END...of the Beginning".[4]


When their latest rocket test fails and government funding collapses, rocket scientist Dr. Charles Cargraves (Warner Anderson) and space enthusiast General Thayer (Tom Powers) enlist the aid of aircraft magnate Jim Barnes (John Archer). With the necessary millions raised privately from a group of patriotic U.S. industrialists, Cargraves, Warner and Barnes build an advanced single-stage-to-orbit atomic powered spaceship, named Luna, at their desert manufacturing and launch facility. The project is soon threatened by a ginned-up public uproar over "radiation safety", but the three circumvent legal efforts to stop their expedition by launching the world's first Moon mission ahead of schedule. As a result, they must quickly substitute Joe Sweeney (Dick Wesson) as their expedition's radar and radio operator.

En route to the Moon they are forced to spacewalk outside. They stay firmly attached to Luna with magnetic boots so they can easily walk to and free up the frozen piloting radar antenna that the inexperienced Sweeney innocently greased before launch. In the process, Cargraves becomes untethered in free fall and is lost overboard. He is retrieved by Barnes who cleverly uses a large oxygen cylinder retrieved by General Thayer as an improvised propulsion unit to return them to Luna.

After achieving lunar orbit the crew begins the complex landing procedure, but they use too much fuel during the descent. Safely on the Moon, they explore the lunar surface and describe by radio their view of the Earth, as contrasted against the black lunar sky. Barnes photographs Sweeney pretending to "hold up" the Earth like a modern Atlas. Events takes a serious turn for the crew when they realize that with their limited remaining fuel they must lighten Luna in order to achieve lunar escape velocity.

No matter how much non-critical equipment they strip out and discard on the lunar surface, the hard numbers radioed from Earth continue to point to one conclusion: one of them will have to remain on the Moon if the others are to safely return to Earth. With time running out for their return launch window, the crew continues to engineer their way home. They jettison the ship's radio, losing contact with Earth. In addition, an oxygen tank is used as a tethered, suspended weight to pull their sole remaining space suit outside through the open airlock, which is then remotely closed and resealed. With the critical take-off weight finally achieved, and with all her crew safely aboard, Luna blasts off from the Moon for home.

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