What happened to the Apollo 13 crew is a great example of how professionalism and courage can help people in dire situations. Find out what happened to this famous mission, and how the Apollo crew fought to save their lives.
Everyone has heard the expression “Houston! We have a Problem!” from Apollo 13 — not just from a movie, but actually from a space mission. But what happened in the real world? Here’s a quick overview of Apollo 13. How did it end?
Apollo 13 crew & pre-mission setbacks
Apollo 13 was the 7th man-manned flight to Moon. This number, which is notoriously unlucky, began to affect the 13th mission long before it launched. First, the original Apollo 13 crew needed to be replaced by the 14th mission staff due to their . NASA appointed James Lovell, Apollo 13 commander, to replace John Swigert (command module) and Fred Haise (lunar module pilots).
John Swigert was in fact a reserve pilot. His original command module commander pilot Thomas Kenneth Ken>> Mattingly had contracted measles 2 days prior to the mission launch. But, those were minor setbacks, compared with the Apollo 13 incident which would have the entire world bawling its eyes.
Apollo 13 mission launch details
Apollo 13 Mission crew took off at 06:00 UTC from Kennedy Space Center, April 11, 1970. Five minutes and a tenth of an hour into the flight, the second stage engine shut down prematurely. It happened just two minutes before the scheduled time. But Saturn V’s heavy rocket had already experienced the acceleration required, so Apollo crew resolved this issue by igniting the side engines.
For a time it appeared that Apollo 13 was operating normally. However, the Apollo 13 crew made repairs to the first explosions. The sensor level of Oxygen Tank 2 went off at the 56th minute of Apollo 13’s flight. The Apollo command module was without power for three hours after the explosion destroyed its fuel cell batteries. This was however not the main problem. At that point, the astronaut team was faced with a greater problem — decreasing oxygen levels, and the necessity of returning to Earth. Let’s jump ahead a little bit. Did Apollo 13’s crew survive? While they were able to survive, NASA’s mission control team and three astronauts were facing some very stressful hours.
At the time of the blast, it was unclear what caused the incident. It first appeared that the Apollo crew delayed tank destratification procedures, which were necessary to mix oxygen & hydrogen by approximately nine hours, in favor of a broadcast to Earth. Further analysis showed that this was not true as Apollo 13 crew flew aboard the tank from Apollo 10’s onboard mission. Orbital Today reports, that the tank was dropped inadvertently just before the 10th Lunar mission launch. NASA’s further testing required NASA to remove any remaining oxygen from the tank, which in turn damaged its Teflon insulation. Swigert was beginning Apollo tank destratification. By then, a spark had ignited an already deteriorated insulation layer and ultimately led to the explosion.
Apollo 13 Rescue Mission Efforts & Alternative Scenarios
NASA Emergency Rescue Headquarters’s great analytics helped the mission crew survive. They developed five scenarios for returning the Apollo 13 crew home within a matter of hours. The team eventually chose the best one. It had one problem: it extended the mission duration by nine hour, which was dangerous in extreme cold and slowly decreasing oxygen. What time did Apollo 13 take to return from the Pacific? From launch to splashdown in Pacific was 142.54:41. However, all major decisions needed to be made within six hours following the tank explosion. Space and ground crews had six additional days to view their planned outcome. So how did mission crew get home?
First, the Apollo crew had move from Aquarius lunar module to Odyssey command module. Aquarius was not designed to filter oxygen for three crew members. Ground engineers designed an adapter which could be assembled by the astronaut crew right onboard.
Another challenge was the constant cold and lackluster water. The situation was further complicated by an Aquarius explosion, which disabled one of its battery. The mission crew managed to dock Odyssey with the appropriate mass, load it up (as return calculations included 100-pound lunar soil samples which were not collected), and then undock their service modules.
After making several corrections to their trajectory, and activating a navigation system for landing, the Apollo crew touched down in the Pacific Ocean, April 17, 1970 at 18:07,41 Houston Time. This landing occurred less than 8 km away from a rescue vessel that picked up Apollo 13 crew members and returned them back to NASA. All mission participants, both on Earth as well as in space, were later given the Medal of Freedom — the highest civilian award.