Everybody heard the phrase “Houston we have a problem” coming from Apollo 13 near catastrophe — not just a movie, but from a real mission to space. What happened to this unfortunate launch? And how did the real-life events play out in real life. We will provide a brief account of the fate of Apollo 13, and how its crew returned home.
Apollo 13 crew & pre-mission setbacks
Apollo 13 was 7th manned mission to the Moon. It seems that this unlucky number began affecting the 13th mission before it launched. The original Apollo 13 crew was replaced by the 14th mission crew because of their health . NASA named James Lovell mission commander and John Swigert and Fred Haise lunar module pilots and command module pilots for Apollo 13 command module.
John Swigert, a reserve crew pilot who was also the original command module pilot for Thomas Kenneth Ken>> Mattingly, had measles just two days before the launch. These were minor setbacks in comparison to the Apollo 13 incident, which made the world gasp.
Mission launch and what caused the Apollo 13 accident details
The Apollo 13 Mission crew left Kennedy Space Center on April 11, 1970 at 06:00 UTC. Five and a quarter minutes into the flight, the second-stage engine of the Apollo 13 Mission crew shut down prematurely. This happened two minutes prior to the scheduled time. The Saturn V heavy rocket had already achieved the required acceleration, so the Apollo crew solved this problem by starting side engines.
It seemed for a while that Apollo 13’s mission to collect samples of lunar soil was proceeding normally. That changed on April 13, when the crew fixed the first explosions aboard. At the 56th hour of Apollo 13 flight, Oxygen Tank 2 burst after its sensor level jumped off the scale. Three fuel cell batteries were destroyed by the explosion, resulting in the Apollo command module losing its power supply. This made the Moon landing impossible. However, this was not the problem. The astronaut crew was now facing a bigger problem: decreasing oxygen levels and the need to return to Earth. Did the Apollo 13 crew survive? They survived, but the three astronauts and NASA’s mission control center were about face some stressful hours.
It was not possible to determine the cause of the explosion at the time. At first, it seemed that the Apollo crew delayed the tank destratification procedure which is necessary to mix hydrogen and oxygen by nine hours to make way for a broadcast with Earth. The Apollo 13 crew flew onboard the tank with them from the Apollo 10 mission. Further analysis revealed that this was not true. Orbital Today reports the tank was accidentally dropped just before the 10th lunar missions launch. The tank was then returned for maintenance. NASA’s further testing also required that any oxygen remaining in the tank was removed, which caused damage to its Teflon insulation. Swigert began Apollo tank destratification when a spark ignited the insulation layer that was already damaged and led to an explosion.
Apollo 13 Rescue Mission Efforts & Alternative Scenarios
NASA Emergency Rescue Headquarters made it possible for the mission crew to survive, not only due to its bravery and resourcefulness but also because they used great analytics to help them. They created five scenarios to bring the Apollo 13 crew home in just a few hours. The safest one was eventually chosen. The only problem was that it extended the mission by nine hours. This was due to the extremely cold conditions and decreasing oxygen levels. How long did Apollo 13 take to return home? From launch to splashdown on the Pacific, it took 142:54.41. Nevertheless, all major decisions had be made within six hours of the tank explosion. Both ground and space crews then had to wait six more days to see their desired outcome. How did the mission crew manage to return home?
The Apollo crew first had to transfer from the Aquarius lunar modules to the Odyssey command module. Aquarius’ main problem was that the Apollo 13 capsule wasn’t designed to filter air for three crew members over a prolonged period of time. Ground engineers devised a quick adapter design, which the astronaut crew could quickly assemble onboard.
Another problem was the constant cold and dearth of water. This was exacerbated by an Aquarius module explosion that disabled one of its batteries. The mission crew was able to complete all maneuvers necessary to dock Odyssey, load Odyssey up to the required mass (return calculations included 100 pounds lunar soil samples that were never collected) and then undock service modules.
After several trajectory corrections and activating the landing navigation system, Apollo crew crashed into the Pacific Ocean at 18:07.41 Houston time. The Apollo 13 crew was picked up by a rescue ship and returned to NASA. This landing was less than 8 kilometers away. All mission personnel, on Earth and in space, received the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in America.