Recalling the error of the Apollo 13 mission on the anniversary of its launch

Randi Mann
·2 min read
Recalling the error of the Apollo 13 mission on the anniversary of its launch
Recalling the error of the Apollo 13 mission on the anniversary of its launch

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On Saturday, April 11, 1970, Apollo 13 launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. It was NASA's seventh manned-mission and the third launch set to land on the moon.

Apollo 13 Launch Courtesy NASA
Apollo 13 Launch Courtesy NASA

Apollo 13 launch. Courtesy of NASA

James A. Lovell, John L. Swigert and Fred W. Haise were the three astronauts aboard the spacecraft. In the movie version of Apollo 13, Tom Hanks played Jim Lovell, Bill Paxon portrayed Fred Haise and Kevin Bacon was John Swigert.

Apollo 13 Crew Training Ken Mattingly(left), Jim Lovell, and Fred Haise. Courtesy NASA
Apollo 13 Crew Training Ken Mattingly(left), Jim Lovell, and Fred Haise. Courtesy NASA

Apollo 13 crew training. From left to right: Ken Mattingly, Jim Lovell, and Fred Haise. Courtesy of NASA

In the real-life version of Apollo 13, the spacecraft was two days into its mission when an oxygen tank exploded in the service module (SM).

There was a damaged wire inside the SM, so when the oxygen tank went through a routine stir, the part blew up. Both of the tanks of oxygen within the SM vented their contents into space. Without the oxygen, the tanks and the SM were rendered useless and the module had to be shut down.

As soon as this explosion occurred, the mission changed from a lunar landing to getting the astronauts home alive. The crew transferred to the lunar module (LM) and used it as a lifeboat.

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The LM was designed to carry two people on the moon for two days. However, Mission Control in Houston devised a plan so it could support all the astronauts for four days.

Nasa astronauts
Nasa astronauts

Astronauts and flight controllers monitor the console activity in the Mission Operations Control Room during the Apollo 13 lunar landing mission. Courtesy of NASA

During those four days, the three men had limited power, which created a cold and wet environment. There was also very little drinkable water. Mission control designed other adaptations to ensure that the LM could safely carry the astronauts back to Earth.

The cause of the explosion is associated with the Teflon that was placed inside the oxygen tank. This was updated for Apollo 14.

On Friday, April 17, 1970, tens of millions of people tuned in to watch the LM as it splashed down in the south Pacific Ocean.

To learn more about the Apollo 13 mission, listen to today's episode of "This Day In Weather History."

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Thumbnail: Courtesy of NASA