Houston, We Have A Problem: The True Story Of Apollo 13

The Apollo 13 mission was supposed to be NASA's third lunar landing, but it was plagued with misfortune from the start. In fact, the crew that got injured, consisting of James Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise, was not even the original crew. A few days before takeoff, it was revealed that many of the Apollo astronauts training had been exposed to measles due to an outbreak at their children's school, so Jack Swigert was hired only two days before Ken Mattingly as command module pilot. Had to change lift off.

Still, everything seemed fine at liftoff, typically the most dangerous time for such missions. Things were going smoothly for 56 hours, when the power suddenly went out and the astronauts were startled by a loud bang. They quickly learned, to their fear, that an oxygen tank on board had exploded. It was discovered that during the construction of the spacecraft, the liquid oxygen tank was dropped on the factory floor, damaging delicate internal plumbing. Although it worked once in the instrument test days before launch, by filling the damaged tank with liquid oxygen, they inadvertently replaced it "waiting to go off in a bomb".

Apollo 13, view of the crippled service module after separation.

Worse, the explosion caused a nearby gas oxygen tank to burst, causing a major wound on the side of the spacecraft and leaving the astronauts in a very precarious position. NASA's space center in Houston, Texas, initially thought it was an instrument error until they received the now famous radio call from Swigert, "Houston, we've got a problem." Screenwriter William Broyles, Jr. later changed the line for the iconic Tom Hanks film Apollo 13 to "Houston, we have a problem" because he felt it was more urgent.

But things were very important in the flight. Clearly, they weren't going to the Moon in a truncated shuttle, and their only hope was to catapult the more than 1,000 miles around it back to Earth. As their power failed and their oxygen ran out, they had to use the lunar module as a lifeboat and relocate their entire guidance system with the new angle numbers from the command module in less than 15 minutes. Otherwise, they would have been trapped in the cold abyss of space with no way out.

With every department coming together to come up with potential solutions for the endangered astronauts, Houston swung into action. Within minutes, mathematicians had devised five possible new trajectory options to catapult the damaged module, and mission control went through every possible outcome on their simulators (even Ken Mattingly helped, probably glad he wasn't on the actual mission). However, since the very small lunar module was designed to house only two astronauts for a short period of time, a build-up of carbon dioxide was a serious threat to their survival, and the lithium hydroxide canister (which allowed the air to become clean) on the lunar module did) just weren't cutting it.

Astronauts posing behind the lunar globe.

The good news was that canisters were still available on the command module, but for some reason, they were designed as squares, unlike the circular canisters provided for Chandra. If the astronauts were to survive, they would have to figure out how to stick a square peg in a round hole. Using only what the crew had on hand, Mission Control devised a solution involving plastic manual covers, duct tape, cardboard, and parts of space and guided the trapped people through improvised construction. which allowed them to breathe clean air.

However, as the power was turned off to conserve power for re-entry, the module had no temperature regulation, leaving it close to freezing and forcing the astronauts to continually store condensation inside, so Don't let their equipment go to waste. His water had to be rationed, and he became so dehydrated on the trip back that Haise developed a painful kidney infection. Thankfully, the crew made it back to Earth on April 17, 1970, when they plunged into the South Pacific Ocean near American Samoa. Although the kind of discovery they were looking for, NASA learned many lessons, made several design changes to the Shuttle for subsequent missions, and established better inspection procedures. None of the three astronauts aboard Apollo 13 ever went to space again, and the Apollo mission was shut down for good in 1972 after losing public interest.


  1. This Apollo mission was one of the more honest missions because they didn't have to lie about landing on the moon.

    1. And I bet you have proof the Earth is flat.


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