Friday, July 24, 2009

Apollo 13


Date: April 11-17, 1970
Crew: Commander James Lovell (42)
Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert (38)
Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise (36)

Command Module Call Sign: Odyssey
Lunar Module Call Sign: Aquarius

Mission Distinctions: First mission failure in 22 manned American flights; Lunar Module used as a "lifeboat" while the CSM was powered down; Jim Lovell became the first man to fly twice to the moon.

Apollo 13 crew
Apollo 13 trembled when Oxygen Tank #2 blew off the Service Module behind the crew’s backs. Oxygen, electricity, light and water were lost… along with about $13 million dollars worth of scientific equipment.

According to the astronauts, the Apollo 13 movie was a fairly accurate depiction of sequential events and emotions, with some artistic liberties taken to “summarize.” (For example, Gary Sinise’s character represented many men who worked in simulators to provide solutions and checklists.) Movie geeks with more time on their hands than Ron Howard have compiled an interesting list of historical irregularities for those concerned with precise accuracy!

Apollo 13
Representation of the Apollo 13 explosion
painted by astronaut Alan Bean

The press was not informed at the time, but Lovell’s platform alignment en route to the moon after the explosion was the most crucial of the efforts to get the astronauts back home safely. Had that essential maneuver failed, they would have been marooned in space. The press did get wind of another course adjustment two days later and sensationalized the "life or death" angle.

The temperature in the LM dropped to 38 degrees. Designed only for a 45-hour lifetime for two inhabitants, the astronauts had to make it last 90 hours with three.

In a rare serious moment, comedian Milton Berle asked the crowd at Wrigley Field for a moment of silence and prayer for the crewmen of Apollo 13 before a Chicago Cubs game.

The crew jettisoned the blast-gutted Service Module just hours before re-entry to Earth. They had "towed" it along for 300,000 miles because it’s bulk was protecting the Command Module’s heat shield from the intense cold of space.

The final ordeal was radio silence caused by ionized air surrounding the module during its super-heated re-entry through the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Apollo 13 had an excruciating six-minute blackout, the longest of any mission, because their re-entry path was longer and far more shallow than normal.

Currently, the Apollo 13 Command Module Odyssey is on display at the Cosmosphere and Space Center of Hutchinson, Kansas. Both stages of the Lunar Module Aquarius burned up in Earth's atmosphere on April 17, 1970.