Everyone has heard the expression “Houston! We have a Problem!” from Apollo 13 — not just from a movie but from a true space mission. How did the real-life events unfold after this disastrous launch? 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 chose James Lovell to be the mission commander. John Swigert was appointed lunar module pilot and lunar command module pilot, respectively.
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 gasping for air.
Apollo 13 mission launch details
Apollo 13 Mission crew took off at 06:00 UTC from Kennedy Space Center, April 11, 1970. The first problem was discovered just five and a-half minutes into the flight when the second stage engine shut down prematurely, approximately two minutes before the scheduled time. The Saturn V heavy-rocket had already experienced the required acceleration at this point so the Apollo crew resolved the problem by igniting the side engines.
It appeared that Apollo 13 was operating normally until April 13 when crew members repaired 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’s power supply was cut off by the explosion. 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 to return 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.
It was unclear what caused the explosion. At first it appeared that the Apollo crew delayed tank destratification, which was required to mix hydrogen with oxygen, by about nine hours in favour of a broadcast to Earth. Further analysis showed that this was not the truth. The Apollo 13 crew flew with a tank from Apollo 10 onboard. Orbital Today reports, that the tank was accidentally dropped right before the 10th lunar launch. NASA’s further testing required NASA to remove any oxygen from this tank. This caused severe damage to the Teflon insulation. Swigert was beginning Apollo tank destratification. By then, a spark had ignited the already damaged insulation layer, leading to the explosion.
Apollo 13 Rescue Mission Efforts & Alternative Scenarios
NASA Emergency Rescue Headquarters’s great analytics helped the mission crew survive. In just a few minutes, five scenarios were developed to safely return Apollo 13 crew members home. It had one problem: it extended the mission duration by nine hour, which was dangerous in the extreme conditions of low oxygen and cold. 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 needed to move from Aquarius lunar module into the Odyssey command and control module. Aquarius was problematic because it was not designed to filter oxygen for three crew members. Ground engineers created an adapter design that was quickly assembled by the astronaut crew.
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 (since return calculations required 100 pounds of lunar soil samples which were not collected), and finally undock their service modules.
After a series if trajectory corrections, and activating an orbital navigation system, Apollo crew touched down in the Pacific Ocean, April 17, 1970 at 18:07,41 Houston Time. This landing took place at a distance of less than 8 km from the Apollo 13 crew. It was returned to NASA by the rescue ship. All mission participants, on Earth as well as in space, were later given the Medal of Freedom — the highest civilian award.