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24 August 2014

Titan IIIC Night Launch from film "Marooned"

The Internet is full of bad information, and you have to be really picky to care enough to try and correct it, but this one is a labor of love.

Many film sites make mention of a "goof" or "continuity error" in the 1968 film, Marooned

The film of the rescue craft sitting on the launch pad is clearly a Titan IIIC; but the launch sequence is often claimed to be a Titan II, without the strap-on solid rocket boosters (SRB) attached.

Space exploration enthusiasts know the Titan II well, both as America's Cold War era Intercontinental Ballistic Missile and, moreover, as the launch vehicle which put all of the Gemini astronauts in orbit.

Here are simple, single barrel, Titan II rockets in both ICBM and Gemini configurations at launch:

Titan II - ICMB launch.
Titan II -- Gemini launch

Now, in Marooned, the launch sequence provides two problems for us.  First, it is a rare night launch.  There were only three, and that makes it difficult to see the details.  Second, the camera is positioned in-line with the roll-away tower, so the view is across the line of boosters, rather than perpendicular to the line.

Two scaled screen shots from the film, Marooned:
Left:  Titan IIIC on the pad, from oblique angle.
Right: Titan IIIC at launch.

 At first, we only notice the slim single barrel of the Titan II; but next we can make out the red (or orange) painting of the TVC tank.  No Titan II ever carried an external TVC tank, much less a red one. 

Watching the video, that red band on the tank moves with the rocket from the moment of launch-- it is not part of the launch tower.

On closer inspection we can also see not one, but two nose-cones.  We see the nosecone on top of the main booster-- but we also see, lower down, the top of the shorter SRB.

We can also match the black striping; which matches the Titan IIIC configuration-- but that also nearly matches Titan II striping such as can be seen in the Gemini launch photo already shown.

Finally-- and if you are already something of a rocket nerd-- the most obvious proof that the launch is of a Titan IIIC is the exhaust plume. 

Liquid fuel rockets (such as the Titan II) do not blow bright yellow exhaust plumes.  A Titan II's plume (as can be seen in the first two images) is nearly invisible, very narrow, and slightly blue.

The central unit of the Titan III is a Titan II, but the main booster's plume is overwhelmed by the always grandiose plumes of the strap-on SRBs.

So what?

There are two reasons to make note of this film sequence.

To begin with, we have a very rare, and very dramatic film of a Titan IIIC night launch, and even better-- it was recorded using cinematographic equipment, because it was recorded for a major motion picture.

Also, we have a mystery... 

We do not know which of three Titan IIIC night launches we are witnessing on the screen.

There were three night launches of the Titan IIIC, 28-Apr-1967; 26-Sep-1968; and 23-May-1969-- as the film was released in late 1969, this could be any one of those.

Here is the lowered quality video than the film or DVD would provide:

I am uncertain if the first two clips of the nosecone are actual closeups of the launched craft or if they are of a mock-up. 

Marooned is a 1969 Columbia Pictures film, and the cinematographic quality of the shots of the Titan suggest that this is not "stock footage" and so is not in public domain.  Therefore, this is offered under "Fair Use" but with due credit to:

Columbia Pictures;
M. J. Frankovich, Producer;
Daniel Fapp, Director of Photography; and
W. Wallace Kelley, Director of Photography, 2nd Unit