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Apollo 13

"Houston, We've had a problem." Photo Credit: NASA
A view of the moon and damaged Apollo13 Service Mmodule from Aquarius
A view from Lunar Module Aquarius of the Moon and Damaged Service Module from Apollo 13 autographed and inscribed "Lost Moon" by Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell.
Apollo 13 was supposed to be the third manned landing on the Moon. The destination of this mission was the Fra Mauro region of the Moon.

Named as Commander of Apollo 13 was James (Jim) Arthur Lovell, Jr.  Apollo 13 would make astronaut Lovell the first person to have flown in space four times.

Selected as Command Module Pilot for Apollo 13 was Thomas Kenneth (Ken) Mattingly, II.  Mattingly was a spaceflight rookie.

The Apollo 13 Lunar Module Pilot was chosen to be Fred Wallace Haise, Jr.

The crew selected the name Odyssey for the Command Module.  The dictionary definition for odyssey is a long wandering or voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune.  That definition would certainly be appropriate for the Apollo 13 mission.  The Lunar Module would be called Aquarius.  Aquarius in ancient mythology was the water carrier.  It would provide that and more for the crew of Apollo 13.

Two days before the mission, Mattingly was removed from the crew and replaced by John (Jack) Leonard Swigert, Jr.  Shortly before the launch of Apollo 13, backup crew member Charles Moss Duke, Jr. exposed Mattingly to the German measles.  The doctors were concerned that Mattingly might develop the disease during the flight because he had no immunity to it.

The Apollo 13 Saturn V lifted off on April 11, 1970 at 2:13 pm Eastern Standard Time from Launch Complex 39 A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  At moment of ignition, the Launch Control Center radioed the crew, "Ignition" and Lovell responded, "The clock is running."

The performance of the first stage of the Saturn V was nominal.   The second stage was a different story.  The center engine, which normally shuts down before the outer four engines, shut down two minutes earlier than was planned.  Swigert who was monitoring the engines saw the engine go out and called "Inboard."  The capsule communicator responded, "We confirm inboard out."  Lovell remarked to Swigert, "That shouldn't have happened."  Swigert responded, "No, that's 7:42.  That's two minutes early."

A short while later Lovell queried the ground, "And Houston what's the story on engine 5?"  The capsule communicator responded, "Jim, we don't have a story on why the inboard was out early, but the other engines are GO and you're GO."

The other four engines of the second stage would 34 seconds longer than planned.  The third stage (S-IVB) of the Saturn V would burn 9 seconds longer than planned.  These longer burn times compensated for the early shutdown of the second stage inboard engine and Apollo 13 was safely inserted into orbit.

The crew orbited the Earth for one and one half orbits checking out the vehicle.  They were given the go for Trans Lunar Injection.  The TLI burn would send them on their way to the Moon.

The Command Service Module was separated from the S-IVB and performed its transposition maneuver to face the Lunar Module nested in the top of the S-IVB.  Docking was normal and the Command Service Module extracted the Lunar Module from the S-IVB.

On the way to the Moon the crew made some observations of the receding Earth and sent television photos back.  Haise was in control of the television camera and remarked, "I guess the world really does turn.  I can see some of my landmasses now.  It must be Australia down near the bottom and I guess we really haven't figured out what's over the - to the left.  It must be some part of Asia. China probably." Capsule Communicator (CapCom) Vance Brand responded, "Hey, maybe the fact that you verified that the Earth really turns, we can call it Haise's theory, huh?"

The crew turned in for the night and each slept for about five and one half hours.  The next morning, the CapCom Joe Kerwin passed up some news from the Earth to the crew.  One of the news items Kerwin told them was, "The Beatles have announced that they will no longer perform as a group.  The quartet is reported to have made in excess of half a billion dollars in their short musical career.  However rumors that they will use this to start their own space program are false."  Commander Lovell replied, "Maybe we could borrow some."

Kerwin then joked with the crew asking, "Uh Oh; have you guys completed your income tax?"  Lovell responded, "How do I apply for an extension?"  Kerwin laughed and Swigert added, "Yes Joe.  I got to - hey, listen - it ain't too funny; things happened real fast down there and I do need an extension."  Kerwin laughed again.  Swigert continued, "I didn't get mine filed. And this is serious; would you..." Kerwin responded, "You're breaking up the room down here." Kerwin joked, "We'll see what we can do Jack.   We'll get with recovery and see if we can get the agent out there in the Pacific when you come back."

The jovial conversation continued and Kerwin joked, "And that's about all the news we got; the updated flight plan of the day for you guys, the uniform will be service dress in-flight coverall garments with swords and metals, and tonight's movie shown in the lower equipment bay will be John Wayne, Lou Costello, and Shirley Temple in the "The Flight of Apollo 13. Over."

r after a rest period, at a mission elapsed time of 1 day, 22 hours, 43 minutes into the flight the CapCom Kerwin radioed, "Spacecraft is in real good shape as far as we're concerned, Jim. We're bored to tears down here."  The relaxed environment experienced during the early part of the mission would soon change.

One hour later, CapCom Kerwin radioed, "They gave me the H2s in percent, 76 percent and on the O2 we have 81 percent.  However, we show the O2 tank 2 reading off-scale high now.  We're quite sure it is a sensor failure.  We'd like you to verify it with your on-board reading."  Commander Lovell responded, "Okay.  Stand by.  Joe, we confirm.  Our gauge reading is - on the number 2 O2 tank is reading off-scale high now, but Jack just tells me that it was Okay when we first looked at it this morning."  Kerwin responded, "We verify that.  At 46:45 we had 82 percent and apparently when he stirred the cryos, the sensor broke."

Because of the apparent sensor failure, the people in mission control decided to request that the astronauts stir the cryogenic tanks more often that was originally planned.

Haise and Lovell temporarily transferred over to the Lunar Module Aquarius to inspect it.  While they were in there, they gave a televised tour of the vehicle that was supposed take them to the lunar surface.  Lovell radioed, "Okay, Houston.  For the benefit of the television viewers, we've just about completed our little inspection of Aquarius, and now we're proceeding through the hatchy-gap into the tunnel and going back toward the Odyssey."

Before wrapping up the television broadcast, Lovell radioed, "We might give you a quick shot - of our entertainment on board the spacecraft, which has been keeping us company for some time.  This little tape recorder has been a big benefit - has been a big benefit in passing some of our time away on our transit to the Moon, and it's rather odd to see it floating like this in Odyssey while it's playing the theme from '2001.' And of course the tapes wouldn't be complete without Aquarius." At the time, the tape recorder was playing the song "Also Sprach Zarathustra".

Haise then activated a valve that took Commander Lovell by surprise.  It caused Lovell to pause in his conversation with Capsule Communicator Jack Lousma.  Haise intervened, "Yea I got them with the cabin repress valve again there, Jack."  Lovell added, "Every time he does that our hearts - our hearts jump in our mouth."

Lovell closed out the television broadcast by saying, "And this is the crew of Apollo 13, wishing everyone there a nice evening and we're just about ready to closeout our inspection of Aquarius, and get back to a pleasant evening in Odyssey. Goodnight."

Lousma then requested that Swigert stir the cryogenic tanks, radioing, "13, we've got one more item for you, when you get a chance.  We'd like you to stir up your cryo tanks."

That act would be the final straw for Oxygen Tank Number 2.  The tank exploded and took out several critical systems in the service module with it. To make matters worse, radio communications would be weak and noisy for the remainder of the flight.

At 2 days, 7 hours, 55 minutes and 20 seconds, Command Module Pilot Swigert radioed, "Okay Houston; We've had a problem here."  CapCom Lousma responded, "This is Houston, say again please."  Lovell repeated for Swigert, "Houston, we've had a problem.  We have had a Main B Bus Undervolt." 
Haise added, "And we had a large bang associated with the caution and warning there."

There were problems with the fuel cells.  The flows of oxygen and hydrogen to the fuel cells had stopped.  Mission Control and the crew worked in vain to get the fuel cells restarted.  Then Lovell radioed, "And Jack, our O2 quantity number tank 2 is reading zero.  Did you get that?"  Lousma responded, "O2 quantity number 2 is zero." 

Lovell also added an observation, "... and it looks to me, looking out the hatch, that we are venting something. We are venting something out into the - into space."  CapCom Lousma acknowledged, "Roger.  We copy your venting."  Lovell added, "It's a gas of some sort."  The precious stores of reactants in the service module were quickly being depleted into the void of space.

Mission control quickly instructed the crew to power down the command module.  Without the fuel cells, the batteries would not sustain the Command module systems for very long. Frantically, Mission Control raced to solve the problem of venting gases. 

The oxygen supply used in the Command Module during reentry comes from a tank called the surge tank. Lousma instructed the crew, "
13, Houston. We'd like you to isolate your O2 surge tank." Swigert acknowledged the request, "Roger."

One by one fuel cells were isolated in an effort to stem the flow of escaping gas. Lousma radioed, "Okay, 13, this is Houston.  It appears to us that we're losing
O2 flow through fuel cell 3, so we want you to close the reac valve on fuel cell 3. You copy?"  Haise, in disbelief, responded "Did I hear you right? You want me to shut the reac valve on fuel cell 3?"  Lousma answered, "That's affirmative."

The reason for Haise's disbelief was that the crew could not reopen the reactant control valves once they were closed.  The only way that the reactant control valves were opened in the first place was through the use of special equipment on the ground.  Without operating fuel cells, there would be no lunar landing.

To assure the crew that Mission Control was working on solving the problem, Lousma radioed, "Okay, 13. We've got lots and lots of people working on this, we'll get you some dope as soon as we have it and you'll be the first one to know."
  A concerned Lovell responded, "Oh, Thank you."

It became obvious that the Command Service module was dying.  The pressure in the sole remaining oxygen tank to supply breathable oxygen to the crew was on its way to zero.  Swigert radioed, "Okay, Jack, it looks like O2 tank 1 pressure is just a hair over 200."  CapCom Lousma confirmed Swigert's observation, "We confirm that here, and temperature also confirms it."  Swigert inquired, "Okay. Does it look like it's still going down?"  Lousma answered, "It's slowly going to zero, and we're starting to think about the LM lifeboat."  Realizing how dire the situation was Swigert responded, "Yea, that's what we're thinking about too."

Lousma then instructed the crew, "13, Houston. We'd like you to start making your way over to the LM."  Swigert responded, "Fred and Jim are in the LM already."

The opportunity for landing on the Moon for the Apollo 13 crew was lost.  The only mission objective now was to survive long enough to make it back to the Earth. It was a daunting task.  At this distance from the Earth, it would take four days to make it back home.  The lunar landing vehicle Aquarius would need to take on a much more important role.  Its new purpose was to sustain the three-man crew until reentry.

Figuring out how to survive for four more days took a back seat to a more immediate concern.  The Lunar Module had to be brought on line quickly as there were mere minutes of life left in the Command Module Odyssey.

Lousma radioed, "Jim we have a procedure for getting power from the LM we'd like you to copy down."  Lovell responded, "Stand-by, Jack."  A relieved Swigert added, "That sounds like good news." Haise asked, "Okay, Jack about how long is it?"  CapCom Lousma answered Haise,
"It's not a very long procedure, Fred. We figure we got about 15 minutes worth of power left in the command module so we want you to start getting over in the LM and getting power on that, and you ready to copy procedure?"

Lovell and Haise brought Aquarius to life while Swigert continued powering down Odyssey. Just before Odyssey as completely powered down, the information from Odyssey's navigational platform was transferred over to Aquarius.

Aquarius had been designed to sustain 2 men for just over 49 hours.  Now it would be required to sustain 3 men for 84 hours.  Procedures were developed to only power systems in the Lunar Module related to life support, communications, and environmental control.

Some consideration had been given to attempt a burn with the Service Propulsion System (SPS) engine to send the crew directly back to Earth.  At the point that they were in the flight however it was deemed there was less risk with looping around the Moon and returning to Earth via that route.  There was insufficient power in the Command Module to power the SPS for a burn.  Further more, it was a complete unknown as to what extent the Service Module was damaged due to the explosion of the oxygen tank.

A mid course correction maneuver was still needed to put the spacecraft on a free return trajectory that would return them to Earth.  That maneuver, however, could be done through the use of the descent engine of the Lunar Module.  It would not require any power from the Command Module, nor would it require any support from the Service Module.

The landing gear on the Lunar Module was deployed.   That was required so that the exhaust from the descent engine would not impinge upon the landing gear during the mid course correction maneuver.

At 2 days, 13 hours, 28 minutes, and 53 seconds into the flight CapCom Lousma radioed to the crew, "Roger, Aquarius.  You're GO for the burn."  Lovell responded with the thrust level of the engine, "40 percent."  CapCom Lousma reassured the crew on the burn, "Okay, Aquarius. You're looking good."  The burn was completed in 30 seconds and Commander Lovell announced, "Auto shutdown."  The maneuver was perfect and Apollo 13 was now on a free return trajectory that would now loop around the Moon and bring them back to the Earth.

A decision now had to be made on what could be powered down in the Lunar Module.  Only a bare minimum of systems could be left on, if the crew was going to have enough power for the 4 days required to return to Earth.  Of particular concern was shutting down the primary navigation and guidance system (PNGS).  To align it properly if it should need to be restarted would require the crew to make observations of stars as reference points.  The explosion, however, took that option away.

It was impossible for them to see the stars for navigation.  There were so many small pieces of insulation and bits of material from the explosion floating around the spacecraft that it was impossible to discern what was and what was not a real star.  Lovell radioed, "And, Houston, it is doubtful right now whether we'll be able to see the stars in this configuration.  The only way that we could possibly get an alignment is with the Earth and the terminator or the Moon and its terminator and I'd sure like you to have a look at power down - keeping the PNGS if at all possible."  CapCom Lousma responded, "Roger, Jim.  We'll get the word for you."

A short while later Lousma radioed, "Aquarius, our decision for the time is to leave the IMU powered up, power down the LGC, and power down other nonessential items.  We'll be coming up with a more precise checklist as soon as we get it.  Over."  Lunar Module Pilot Haise responded, "Okay.  The decision is to keep the platform, power down the computer, and we'll be standing by for further word on the power down, Jack."  They would keep the Inertial Measurement Unit powered on (IMU), but would shut off the Lunar Module Guidance Computer (LGC).

A short while later, the decision to power down the guidance computer was rescinded.  A power consumption analysis showed that they could save more power by shutting off the attitude reference ball instead.

A modified sleep schedule was created so that a crew member would be available at all times.  Lunar Module Pilot Haise was given the first slot for sleep and he retired to the darkened Command Module.

It was decided by Mission Control that Apollo 13 would conduct another burn with the descent engine of Aquarius when they were near the Moon.  This burn would result in a shorter trip and change the expected landing site on Earth to a more favorable position.  This burn was called PC+2.  "PC" was short for pericynthion.  Pericynthion is the point at which a spacecraft launched from the Earth is nearest to the moon.  The "+2" indicated that the burn would happen two hours after pericynthion.

Command Module Pilot Swigert was discussing the pericynthion with Mission Control.  Swigert asked CapCom Joe Kerwin, "Joe has your continued tracking changed our pericynthion attitude any?"  Kerwin responded, "Stand by. We'll get the latest on that Jack." Kerwin then called, "Aquarius, Houston."  Swigert responded, "Go ahead." Kerwin reported the pericynthion information, "Roger, Jack. We're still looking at 137 miles and Doppler's confirming it.  We will have a good update after 67 hours."  Swigert responded, "That's good.  I want to say you guys are doing real good work."  Kerwin answered, "So are you guys, Jack."

At 2 days, 20 hours, 3 minutes, and 33 seconds into the flight, Commander Lovell lamented, "Well, I'm afraid this is going to be the last lunar mission for a long time."

At 2 days, 20 hours, and 47 minutes, 0 seconds, Lunar Module Pilot Haise emerged from his restless slumber in the Command Module.  Swigert  told Haise, "... Fred-o. We're at 68 hours, about, and 46 minutes. Did you sleep good?"  Haise then mentioned, "Think I'll get a an aspirin - a couple of aspirin again..."  Swigert added, "I'd like a couple of aspirin, too."

It was now time for Lovell and Swigert to rest, so they retired to the darkened command module.  At 2 days, 23 hours, 6 minutes, and 17 seconds, Haise radioed, "Jim and Jack are in the upstairs bedroom taking a nap now." CapCom Kerwin responded, "I didn't know that was upstairs."  Haise joked, "We have the first space station."

Backup Lunar Module Pilot, Charlie Duke, now came on the communications link to guide Haise through a navigation check.  Haise commented, "Sounds like you finally broke out, Charlie."  CapCom Duke responded, "Yes finally Fred-o. I've no longer got the red spots."  That conversation was a reference to Duke's bout with the German Measles that resulted in Mattingly's replacement with Swigert.

Lovell emerged from the Command Module and at 3 days, 0 hours, 53 minutes, and 29 seconds called CapCom Duke, "Charlie, Jim here." Duke responded, "Roger. Go ahead."  Lovell asked, "Have you run an Earth set alignment in the simulator with a docked configuration?"  CapCom Duke responded, "Is the question, 'Have we run a - an alignment in the docked configuration?' That is affirmative." This conversation concerned using the Earth as a navigational reference, instead of the stars, since the star field was obscured by the debris from the explosion.

Lovell was concerned about this alignment technique and commented to Haise, "I don't have all the confidence in the world in this Earth-Sun P52. Do you know how many times I screwed up on my arithmetic?"  Haise responded, "Yes. Don't count your chickens before they hatch."  Lovell added, "Listen, I'm not."

As they got closer to the Moon, the crew began to discern stars from the background of debris.  Lovell commented, "Man, look at all those stars. Houston."  CapCom Vance Brand responded, "Go ahead, Aquarius."  Lovell continued, "Roger.  We are in the shadow of the Moon now.  The Sun is just about set as far as I can see and the stars are all coming out."

At a mission elapsed time of approximately,  3 days, 5 hours, and 8 minutes the spacecraft passed behind the Moon and communications were lost with Earth for the backside pass of the Moon.  At 3 days, 5 hours, 33 minutes, and 50 seconds, the spacecraft cleared the backside and Commander Lovell radioed, "Good morning, Houston. How do you read?"  CapCom Brand acknowledged, "Aquarius, Houston.  Over." During the close pass to the Moon, the Apollo 13 crew took photographs of the surface.

At 3 days, 5 hours, 56 minutes, and 40 seconds, the third stage (S-IVB) of Apollo 13's Saturn V, impacted the Moon.  This was done intentionally as part of a seismic experiment to be recorded by seismometers previously placed on the lunar surface.

The impact point was 74 nautical miles away from the seismometer placed by the Apollo 12 crew at the Ocean of Storms.  The shock waves recorded from this impact lasted for almost 4 hours.

CapCom Brand radioed the crew, "By the way, Aquarius, we see the results now from 12's seismograph.  It looks like your booster just hit the Moon and it's rocking it a little bit, over."  Commander Lovell responded, "Well at least something worked on this flight."  Lunar Module Pilot Haise added, "I say, I'm sure glad we didn't have an LM impact too."

With the spacecraft oriented for the PC+2 burn, Commander Lovell had a excellent view of the receding full Moon in his window.  Lovell commented, "I can even see Mount Marilyn from here."  Mount Marilyn was a feature on the Moon named after Lovell's wife Marilyn after the Apollo 8 mission.

At a mission elapsed time of 3 days, 7 hours, 18 minutes, and 15 seconds, CapCom Brand informed Lovell, "Jim, you are Go for the burn. Go for the burn."  Lovell acknowledged, "Roger. I understand. Go for the burn."

The burn began and at a mission elapsed time of 3 days, 7 hours, 27 minutes and 51 seconds, Lovell confirmed ignition to Houston, "We're burning forty percent."  CapCom Brand acknowledged, "Houston copies."  Lovell updated the status, "One hundred percent."  Brand assured the crew, "Roger. Aquarius, Houston. You're looking good."  Lovell acknowledged, "Roger." CapCom Brand again reassured the crew, "Aquarius, you were looking good at two minutes. Still looking good." Lovell responded, "Two minutes. Roger."  Brand updated the crew, "Aquarius you're GO at three minutes."  Lovell answered, "Aquarius. Roger."  Capcom Brand reminded the crew, "Don't forget DESCENT RFG1, off; 10 seconds to go."  The burn completed and Lovell confirmed, "Shutdown."

The burn was perfect CapCom Brand radioed, "I say, that was a good burn."  Lovell's attention had already shifted to conserving their precious battery power and he responded, "Roger.  And now we want to power down as soon as possible."

A problem arose with the lunar module's environmental control system.  It was having difficulty removing all of the carbon dioxide out of the air.  At  3 days, 8 hours, 30 minutes, and 53 seconds, Haise reported, "Okay Houston, we just got a MASTER ALARM and an ECS light.  I take it the partial pressure of C02 is - yes - that's what tripped it."

If the level of carbon dioxide got too high in the spacecraft, the crew would asphyxiate. Lithium hydroxide is a chemical compound that was used to remove carbon dioxide from the air in the spacecraft.  There were plenty of lithium hydroxide canisters in the dead command module.  The only problem was that the command module canisters would not fit in the lunar module's environmental control system.  A procedure had to be devised on Earth and relayed to the crew for adapting the square canisters for use in the lunar module.

Haise radioed Houston to inquire about the procedure for adapting the canisters.   He said, "Okay.  You guys just tell me what sort of material you had in mind to build this mailbox out of, and Jack and I will go to work on trying to construct that thing.  Assume we'll use the space age bailing wire or the gray tape?" 

Cap Com Brand responded, "That's affirm.  We have a lengthy procedure here; but, in short, you use plastic as a covering for the whole thing.  You put some kind of stiffener at the top so the plastic doesn't suck against the LOI - LiOH enter - entrance side.  You'll - You need gray tape to stick the whole thing together, and you need something like a sock to put in the - the bottom so that the outlet side is plugged up.  As it turns out, the flow is rather U-shaped through the cartridge, Fred.  It, if you plug up the bottom, it comes in one side of the top and out of the other."

Fatigue was beginning to wear on the crew.  At 3 days, 9 hours, 3 minutes, and 19 seconds, Commander Lovell stated, "Well I guess I better eat something.  Hey this one has some of that candied jelly ...  you know, we've gone a hell of a long time without any sleep.  I said we've gone a hell of a long time without any sleep."  Lovell continued, "We'll have to start thinking about getting the ... back to sleep again because - I  know - I - I didn't get hardly any sleep last night at all."

On April 17, 1970, at 12:07:41 Central Standard Time, the Command Module Odyssey splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.  The duration of the flight was 5 days, 22 hours, 54 minutes, and 41 seconds.
The crew, their family, the employees of NASA, and the entire nation breathed a collective sigh of relief.  Apollo 13 was a mission that strayed near the brink of a terrible human tragedy.  The mission was rescued through the brave and heroic efforts of the crew, mission managers, engineers, and technicians on the ground.  Their can-do attitude is what got America to the Moon in the first place and what allowed them to persevere against seemingly insurmountable odds.

25 years after the flight of Apollo 13, a block buster movie was made by Hollywood about the flight.  The NASA can-do attitude was exemplified by a quote from actor Ed Harris, who played Flight Director Eugene Kranz in the movie.  Harris's quote as Kranz was "We've never lost an American in space, we're sure as hell not going to lose one on my watch!  Failure is not an option."

This movie, "Apollo 13", was based on a best seller book that was authored by Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell and writer Jeffrey Kluger.

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UPDATED : January 6, 2007
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