Little Bits of History

Houston, We Have a Problem

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 13, 2010

The crew of Apollo 13

April 13, 1970: There is an explosion on board Apollo 13 while they are more than 200,000 nautical miles from home. The mission, commanded by Captain James Lovell, had problems even before liftoff. An oxygen tank had been used in a previous craft and was found to be substandard, removed, repaired, and then reinstalled in Apollo 13. It did not test perfectly prior to liftoff, but was not removed.

The Apollo mission was to have been the third manned lunar landing. On April 11, five-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, there was a vibration that should not have been there. Rockets did not fire properly.

The mission was aborted after a rupture of a service module oxygen tank – the same tank that had not worked properly pre-flight. At 55 hours, 55 minutes into the flight, the tank blew and warning lights indicated loss from the three fuel cells, the primary source of electricity on the spacecraft. Thirteen minutes after the explosion, Lovell reported seeing a gas venting from the ship – the rest of the oxygen.

With the loss of power and oxygen so far from home, the best chance of survival for the three astronauts was to leave the main cabin and lock themselves into the Lunar Module [LM]. They tried. The hatch would not seal. With only fifteen minutes of power left, they got into the LM, checked supplies and reserves, and jettisoned from the Command Module. Water, also a precious commodity, was scheduled to run out before any successful landing could be made.

A new course had to be calculated and uploaded to the stranded men. Then they had to accomplish course corrections with a machine not built for the task. With the work of hundreds of people on the ground and the tenacity of Captain Lovell and his crew, John Swigert and Fred Haise, the spacecraft returned safely to Earth on April 17, 1970.

“Given that the movie had to condense four days into two hours, and given that the communications were sometimes rather tedious and technical, it was pretty accurate, … Apollo 13.” – Fred Haise

Jim Lovell: Well, Deke; if I had a dollar for every time I’ve been killed in that thing, I wouldn’t have to work for you. We’ll get it together by launch time. – From Apollo 13, the movie after the crew has been “killed” in a simulator accident.

“Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft, and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor.” – Werner von Braun

“The flight controllers, the people who manned the trenches in mission control, these were kids. They were in their 20s and 30s. And they were controlling a moon mission.” – Andrew Chaikin

Also on this day, in 1829 Roman Catholics were granted freedom of religion in England.

One Response

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  1. Houston said, on November 10, 2010 at 10:54 am

    I have to say being an astronaut must be one of the most riskiest yet most rewarding jobs around.

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