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[AS] For Jack Swigert, On His 83rd Birthday
« dnia: Grudzień 15, 2019, 01:55 »
For Jack Swigert, On His 83rd Birthday
By Emily Carney, on August 29th, 2014

John L. “Jack” Swigert, pictured in a 1971 NASA photo. Photo Credit: NASA

In 2011, waiting for STS-133 to launch on a sunny February afternoon in Titusville, Fla., an out-of-town visitor inquired about Apollo astronauts while talking to a former Cape worker in the proximity of the U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum, formerly located on the city’s Main Street. She brings up the name “Jack Swigert,” and an embarrassed giggle erupts from the elderly gentleman. “Well, some of those boys were wilder than others,” the man says, smiling broadly and shaking his head, undoubtedly remembering the long-dead astronaut’s adventures in bachelorhood.

The 1995 Ron Howard movie Apollo 13 stars actor Kevin Bacon as Swigert. The film arcs around him being a space “rookie,” and, of course, contains many references to his bachelor status. One of the first times we meet Swigert in the film he’s in the shower with one of his (many) girlfriends, grumbling about having to get the rotary phone because he’s on the backup crew (moments later, the viewer discovers why he’s getting the phone call, as he’s about to ascend to prime crew status because command module pilot Thomas K. Mattingly has been exposed to German measles). So, popular culture established two things about him within minutes of the film: He was an astronaut and a “swinger.” But, we don’t really discover anything notable about Swigert the person.

Who was Jack Swigert? Some digging into newspaper archives and books reveals several sides to the man who left Earth permanently in December 1982. Today, had he survived his fight with cancer, he would have turned 83. Who was Apollo 13’s command module pilot, immortalized in spaceflight history by a missed chance at the Moon?

Swigert as a football player during his university years. Photo Credit: Wire photo, undated

John Leonard Swigert was born Aug. 30, 1931, in Denver, Colo. According to a 1982 New York Times obituary, his ophthalmologist father strongly encouraged young “Jack” to become a doctor, but he had no interest in the medical field. Swigert’s mother, Virginia, related, ”[Jack] was interested in mechanical things and would rather tinker with an old car than anything else.”

At age 14, he became fascinated by aviation. While he would’ve been content just watching planes take off from nearby Combs Field, young Jack became determined to do more than be a spectator. He took on a newspaper route to earn money for flying lessons, and by age 16 he was a licensed private pilot. The New York Times article states that his father must have been persuaded by his son’s passion for flying, as he agreed to pay for half of the flying lessons.

He attended East Denver High School and entered the University of Colorado following graduation. Having played varsity football in high school, he also had a strong desire to play during his college years in the late 1940s. However, a 1982 Associated Press article described his athletic drawbacks: He was “a small youth with flat feet.” Just as he’d been determined to earn his pilot’s license, Swigert became a “standout” football player. The same article quotes his former football coach, Dal Ward: “When he first came here, I never dreamed he’d be on the first team. That next fall, he started out on the fifth team, but by the time the season started, he was on the first team.”

Swigert earned a degree in mechanical engineering from UC; he also held two master’s degrees (one in aerospace engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Hartford). Following his graduation from UC, he joined the U.S. Air Force, where he trained as a pilot. During his military career, he was deployed to Japan and Korea. In the latter nation, he would experience his first brush with death. According to the New York Times, “In 1953, his plane crashed into a radar unit on a Korean airstrip and burst into flames.” He walked away from the accident unscathed. This wouldn’t be the first time he narrowly escaped a dangerous situation.

Swigert served with the Massachusetts Air National Guard (1957–1960) and the Connecticut Air National Guard (1960–1965). He also worked as a pilot for Pratt & Whitney and North American Aviation. During this period, his eye was drawn to a new challenge: the Space Race. He was once again determined to meet this challenge head-on.

Swigert applied to be a NASA astronaut in 1962 and 1963 respectively, for the second and third astronaut groups. However, he was rejected each time. These rejections inspired him to further his education, and in 1966 he finally got the nod from NASA. In 1982, he was quoted as saying, “I’m a fighter, not a quitter. Look what I did to get into the space program.”

Swigert in his infamous fur recliner following his perilous Apollo 13 flight, 1970. Photo Credit: LIFE magazine

Swigert, unlike his colleagues, was not married; it was said he kept a well-organized “little black book” with phone numbers of his prospective dates and was once quoted by his sister as having “a girl in every port.” The book Falling to Earth, written by Astronaut Group Five colleague Al Worden with Francis French, has a humorous story about Swigert the bachelor … and spendthrift:

“A lifelong bachelor, Jack had a party at his house every weekend and dated every woman in sight. He was a real skirt chaser and playboy. He spent a lot of time in Miami, where Eastern Airlines had a flight attendant school. I guess the odds of dating were much better around all of those young women. He was also notoriously tight with money, asking a girl out on a date only to have her pay … All of this behavior was generally considered okay; no one cared about Jack’s private life as long as he did his job as well. Thankfully, he was very good at what he did. He’d been a fighter pilot and a great test pilot before joining NASA and was well regarded in the flying fraternity.”

Following the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, Swigert, along with Worden, was employed to work on the Apollo Block II spacecraft. During this period, he became an expert about command module contingencies, which would serve him well in April 1970. In 1968, he served as a member of Apollo 7’s support crew and was a CAPCOM for that mission. And in 1970, he got his unexpected moment in space while serving on Apollo 13’s backup crew (Apollo 16’s prime crew).

The events surrounding Apollo 13 in April 1970 are well-known, and Swigert once again came close to losing his life; had the same sequence of events unfolded while Jim Lovell and Fred Haise were walking on the Moon, all three crew members would have certainly perished. The three men returned to Earth on April 17 and received the “glossy mag” treatment from LIFE magazine, among other publications. One infamous photo shows Swigert in his furry purple recliner, highball glass in hand, seemingly without a care in the world. However, as the 1970s and 1980s unfolded, he would encounter yet more adversity.

Swigert was meant to fly on 1975’s Apollo-Soyuz (ASTP) mission, but this opportunity was scuttled by a scandal that rocked another Apollo crew. Following the Apollo 15 postage stamp controversy, Swigert denied he’d had any dealings involving envelopes, but later admitted he had. The book, Deke!, written by Donald K. “Deke” Slayton with Michael Cassutt, details the end of Swigert’s spaceflight career: “[Swigert’s admission] was enough for George Low, who was having to deal with this. Jack Swigert wasn’t going to be on ASTP.” In 1973, his chances to fly gone, he became the executive director of the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology. His determined gaze turned to politics.

A staunch Republican, Swigert first entered the political arena in 1978, when he campaigned for a seat in the U.S Senate. Despite losing to friend William Armstrong in the Republican primary, once again he wouldn’t quit. In 1982, he began campaigning for a U.S. House seat. But mid-campaign, he would face his biggest challenge of all—even bigger than ones encountered half a world away in Korea, or 240,000 miles away, around the Moon.

Artist Tim Gagnon’s painting of Jack Swigert is displayed at the Connecticut Air National Guard Headquarters in East Granby, Conn. Image Credit: Tim Gagnon, with permission from the artist

According to a Denver Post article published in November 1982, Swigert had a small, cancerous tumor removed from his nose earlier that year, and had received radiation treatment. It was believed this treatment had been successful. But in August 1982, Swigert, suffering severe back pain, was looking pale, thin, and wan, which was not characteristic for him (at nearly six feet tall, he was larger than most Apollo astronauts, and he weighed the most—195 pounds—prior to liftoff). In September, he underwent medical tests; a bone marrow biopsy would reveal lymphoma.

Despite this crushing diagnosis, Swigert wouldn’t end his campaign. The Denver Post article relayed his words: “A few days ago I learned I have a new challenge. Like three million other Americans, I have cancer, and I believe you need to know that. For a while, I may have to work only eight or nine hours a day, but I will continue my aggressive campaign.” For the next few months, he fought a war on two fronts. He won his political battle in Colorado with 63 percent of the vote. He would continue his war with cancer, but sadly, on Dec. 27, he succumbed to pneumonia at the obscenely young age of 51.

While Swigert the man was gone, the image of him as a bachelor who suddenly ascended to dizzying heights remained, particularly in Apollo 13. Swigert’s posthumous life certainly has more meaning than that. A school in Colorado bears his name and dedication to spaceflight (Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy), while a bronze statue bearing his likeness is on display in Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Visitors Center (a duplicate bronze is featured at Denver International Airport).

Who was Jack Swigert? He was a test pilot, astronaut, politician, and bachelor who may have liked a good party or two. But ultimately, he was a fighter who didn’t surrender, despite encountering tremendous adversity. Before his death, he said: “I believe God measures your life. He puts you on Earth, gives you talents and certain opportunities, and, I think, you’re going to be called to account for those opportunities.” Despite facing setbacks, Jack Swigert certainly earned his place in history’s canon.


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Odp: [AS] For Jack Swigert, On His 83rd Birthday
« Odpowiedź #1 dnia: Grudzień 24, 2019, 18:04 »
'To Become More Diverse': Choosing the Apollo 13 Landing Site, 50 Years On (Part 1)
By Ben Evans, on December 1st, 2019 [AS]

Apollo 13’s Latin motto of “Ex Luna, Scientia” (“From the Moon, Knowledge”) highlighted this mission as a voyage of exploration and scientific endeavor. Image Credit: NASA

Had the cruelty of fate not intervened, 14 sons of Earth—not 12—would have taken the sweeping descent down to the surface of the Moon and left their bootprints in primordial lunar soil. In April 1970, Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell, Command Module Pilot (CMP) Jack Swigert and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Fred Haise came within a hair’s breadth of disaster, some 240,000 miles (370,000 km) from home, when an explosion occurred in their Command and Service Module (CSM) Odyssey. Through an amazing combination of human spirit, ingenuity and heroism, both in space and on Earth (and against all odds), the three astronauts returned safely home.

If near-tragedy had not so radically altered Apollo 13, Lovell and Haise would have performed two Extravehicular Activities (EVAS) at a place on the Moon called Fra Mauro, the first hilly, upland site ever explored by humans. Fifty years ago this month, NASA formally announced the selection of Fra Mauro as the destination for the ill-fated flight.

Jim Lovell (left) and Fred Haise examine a rock specimen during geological training in the Quitman Mountains of far-western Texas. This picture was taken in February 1969, whilst they were training as part of the Apollo 11 backup crew. Photo Credit: NASA

“The decision is based on a review of the photographs taken of the Fra Mauro area and successful demonstration of pinpoint landing techniques by the Apollo 12 mission,” NASA noted in a news release, dated 10 December 1969. “NASA is continuing to assess the effects of lunar dust on visibility during the final portion of the landing phase, as reported by the Apollo 12 crew.”

“It was driven by confidence in the LM capability and steerage,” Haise told the NASA Oral History Project of the site selection, “but also, if you’re going to properly sample the Moon…you had to become more diverse in…where you went to get a proper sampling.”

And Fra Mauro was nothing if not diverse.

Ed Mitchell works with the Mobile Equipment Transporter (MET), surrounded by the barren desolation of the Fra Mauro landing site. In February 1971, the Apollo 14 mission visited the site denied to the ill-fated Apollo 13. Photo Credit: NASA

The site was named in honor of the 15th-century Venetian cartographer-monk Fra Mauro, who created one of the earliest (and relatively accurate) maps of the Old World. His lunar namesake differed markedly from the relatively flat, open plains (or mare) explored by the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 astronauts and was considerably more rugged, resembling a low “island” in the Moon’s Ocean of Storms. In the late 1960s, many geologists suspected that the lunar highlands had remained virtually unchanged, geochemically and morphologically, since the Moon formed, around 4.5 billion years ago. By exploring into the older and more heavily cratered lunar highlands, it was hoped that Lovell and Haise would identify some of the oldest rocks on the surface.

Fra Mauro had been extensively photographed from lunar orbit by the Apollo 12 crew in November 1969, and samples returned from the Sea of Tranquility and the Ocean of Storms differed markedly in composition from “ordinary” mare materials, to such an extent that they were believed to have been violently ejected over long distances by vast impacts in the lunar highlands. One obvious example of such an impact was the object which created the 750-mile-wide (1,200 km) Imbrium basin, whose southern rim lay 300 miles (480 km) to the north of Apollo 13’s selected landing site at Fra Mauro. In fact, much of Fra Mauro was thought to be composed of ejecta from this ancient cataclysm. By sampling these foothills, Lovell and Haise might shed significant new light on the composition of the pre-Imbrium lunar crust and help to establish an absolute date for when the impact took place.

Fred Haise practices carrying the panniers of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) during pre-flight training in January 1970. Photo Credit: NASA

Of central importance in the so-called Fra Mauro Formation was Cone Crater, a yawning bowl, spanning 1,000 feet (300 meters), whose impact was believed to have dug deeply into a ridge of Imbrium ejecta. Imagery from NASA’s unmanned Lunar Orbiters had shown its rim to be littered with boulders drawn from deep within the blanket of Imbrium material, and Cone was one of Apollo 13’s key sampling locations. “By strategically sampling up toward the crater, you would be sampling material that at the…outside ray of the crater would be the deepest material,” Haise explained to the NASA Oral History Project. “If it’s due to an impact facet, it “inverts”—it’s an inverted flap—so if you’re sampling up a ray, the farther-out stuff is the deepest stuff within the crater. And as you get up near the edge of the crater, you’re sampling literally at the surface.”

Reaching Fra Mauro and Cone Crater involved a novel propellant-conservation plan. Previous Apollo missions had entered near-circular orbits at an altitude of about 70 miles (110 km), after which the LM undocked from the Command and Service Module (CSM), nicknamed “Odyssey”, to commence its Powered Descent to the surface. However, on Apollo 13, the spacecraft would enter an elliptical orbit, with a high point of 70 miles (110 km) and a low point of only 9.3 miles (15 km). The result was that LM Aquarius would be effectively relieved of the need to perform a Descent Orbit Insertion (DOI) maneuver, thereby providing Lovell with an extra 15 seconds of hovering time in order to select an appropriate landing spot. During his approach, he would clear the 1,000-feet-wide (300-meter) ridge, into which Cone was embedded, and find a safe patch, somewhere between two groups of craters, nicknamed “Doublet” and “Triplet”.

The Apollo 13 crew is pictured during training in January 1970. From left to right are Commander Jim Lovell, CMP Ken Mattingly and LMP Fred Haise. Two days before launch, Mattingly was dropped from the mission and replaced by his backup, Jack Swigert. Photo Credit: NASA

Had the crippling explosion in one of two oxygen tanks aboard Apollo 13 on the evening of 13 April 1970 not occurred, and had the mission proceeded as intended, the crew would have entered lunar orbit at 7:38 p.m. EDT on 14 April 1970, about 77.5 hours after launch. Almost a full day later, at 5:29 p.m. EDT on the 15th, during Apollo 13’s 12th orbit of the Moon, Lovell and Haise would have undocked LM Aquarius from CSM Odyssey, leaving Swigert alone in orbit. “A radially-downward Service Module Reaction Control System (RCS) burn of 1 fps (0.3 meters/sec),” it was noted in the Apollo 13 Press Kit, “will place the CSM on an equiperiod orbit with a maximum separation of 2.5 nautical miles (4.6 km).” About an hour later, Swigert would have executed a Circularization Burn to establish Odyssey into an orbit of 52 x 62 nautical miles (96.3 km x 114.8 km). Due to perturbations of the lunar gravitational potential, this orbit was expected to virtually circularize by the time of rendezvous with Aquarius’ returning ascent stage, almost two days hence.

In the meantime, Lovell and Haise would have commenced their Powered Descent during the 14th orbit, braking the LM out of the descent orbit by means of the Descent Engine. “Spacecraft attitude will be windows-up from the Powered Descent Initiation to the end of the braking phase,” it was explained, “so that the LM landing radar data can be integrated continually by the LM guidance computer and better communications can be maintained.” About 7,400 feet (2,250 meters) above the Moon, the braking phase would end and Aquarius would be rotated toward an “upright”, windows-forward, attitude, thereby permitting the crew a view of the landing site.

Progressing through the upper (“High Gate”) and lower (“Low Gate”) stages of the approach, Aquarius would initiate a final vertical descent at an altitude of about 100 feet (30 meters), by which point all forward velocity would have been nulled out. According to the Apollo 13 Press Kit, touchdown at Fra Mauro was intended to occur at 9:55 p.m. EDT on 15 April, about 103 hours and 42 minutes after departing Earth. The predicted landing spot was situated 30 miles (48 km) north of the Fra Mauro crater.


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Odp: [AS] For Jack Swigert, On His 83rd Birthday
« Odpowiedź #2 dnia: Grudzień 24, 2019, 18:05 »
‘Like A Game of Solitaire’: Choosing the Apollo 13 Landing Site, 50 Years On (Part 2)
By Ben Evans, on December 8th, 2019 [AS]

Jim Lovell and Fred Haise participate in lunar surface training in February 1970. Their target was the Moon’s Fra Mauro foothills. Photo Credit: NASA

In an alternate universe, Jim Lovell and Fred Haise should have been the fifth and sixth sons of humanity to have walked the surface of an alien world. In April 1970, the pair—joined by their Apollo 13 crewmate Jack Swigert—launched on the fifth piloted mission to the Moon, with an expectation that Lovell and Haise would land in a hilly region called Fra Mauro. As outlined in last week’s AmericaSpace history article, the site lay to the south of the 750-mile-wide (1,200 km) Imbrium basin, an ancient impact feature, and it was hoped that Apollo 13’s explorations would yield new clues into the composition of the early lunar crust. After touching down on the Moon, aboard their Lunar Module (LM) Aquarius, Lovell and Haise would spend 33.5 hours on the surface and perform two sessions of Extravehicular Activity (EVA), each baselined at four to five hours in duration.

Pictured during emergency egress training in January 1970, astronauts Jim Lovell (left) and Fred Haise lost their chance to walk on the Moon during Apollo 13. Years later, Lovell would declare that Apollo 13 was his proudest professional hour. Photo Credit: NASA

Fifty years ago this month, in December 1969, NASA formally decided on Fra Mauro as the destination for Lovell and Haise’s lunar adventure. “The decision is based on a review of the photographs taken of the Fra Mauro area and successful demonstration of pinpoint landing techniques by the Apollo 12 mission,” it was reported. “NASA is continuing to assess the effects of lunar dust on visibility during the final portion of the landing phase as reported by the Apollo 12 crew.” It was anticipated that exploration of this region would unveil clear insights into “the nature, composition and origin” of the ancient Mare Imbrium formation, of which Fra Mauro is part.

Plans for a “rest” period in the immediate aftermath of landing had long since been abandoned, and it was anticipated that Lovell and Haise would be suited up and ready to begin the first of their two EVAs at 2:13 a.m. EDT on 16 April 1970. The duo would set up an erectable S-band antenna, about 50 feet (15 meters) from Aquarius, for relaying voice, television, and LM telemetry data to Earth-based stations. “After the antenna is deployed, Haise will climb back into the LM to switch from the LM steerable S-band antenna to the erectable antenna, while Lovell makes final adjustments to the antenna’s alignment,” it was noted by NASA. “Haise will then rejoin Lovell on the lunar surface to set up a United States flag and continue with EVA tasks.”

The hummocky terrain of the Fra Mauro Formation, and the slopes of Cone Crater, were the original destination of Jim Lovell and Fred Haise. The site was later visited by Apollo 14’s Al Shepard and Ed Mitchell. Photo Credit: NASA

Core objectives would have encompassed the collection of a “contingency” sample of about 2 pounds (900 grams) of lunar soil, the unveiling of a commemorative plaque on Aquarius’ leg and the deployment of the second Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP). The latter, situated about 500 feet (150 meters) from the LM, would have supported five discrete investigations: the instrumented probes of the Heat Flow Experiment (HFE), the Dust Detector, the Charged Particle Lunar Environment Experiment (CPLEE), the Cold Cathode Gauge Ion Instrument of the Lunar Atmosphere Detector (LAD), and the Passive Seismic Experiment (PSE). “These experiments are aimed toward determining the structure and state of the lunar interior, the composition and structure of the lunar surface and processes which modify the lunar surface, and evolutionary sequence leading to the Moon’s present characteristics,” NASA explained. “The Passive Seismic Experiment will become the second point in a lunar seismic “net”, begun with the first ALSEP at the Surveyor III landing site of Apollo 12. The two seismometers must continue to operate until the next seismometer is emplaced to complete the three-station set.”

In particular, the HFE would have required Haise to drill a pair of 10-foot-deep (3.3-meter) holes with the Apollo Lunar Surface Drill (ALSD). Meanwhile, Lovell would have busied himself with the assembly of the ALSEP Central Station. The pair would then have headed about a half-mile (800 meters) to the west to begin their first period of scientific exploration, venturing as far as the rim of Star Crater. They would have returned to the LM in a looping elllipse, by way of the Doublet crater group, and Haise would have deployed the Solar Wind Composition Experiment (SWCE). This would have concluded a maximum EVA-1 traverse of 5,000 feet (1,150 meters).

Capcom Jack Lousma (seated, center) is surrounded by fellow astronauts in Mission Control at the height of the Apollo 13 crisis. Seated to Lousma’s left is pipe-smoking backup commander John Young, with the head of flight crew operations, Deke Slayton, seated to his right. Leaning over the console is fellow capcom Vance Brand, whilst Ken Mattingly – who might have been aboard Apollo 13, but for an exposure to German measles – looks on at far left. Photo Credit: NASA

Lovell and Haise’s time outside would be tightly constrained, and the clock would forever work against them. “While on the surface, the crew’s operating radius will be limited by the range provided by the Oxygen Purge System (OPS), the reserve backup for each man’s Portable Life Support System (PLSS) backpack,” it was highlighted. “The OPS supplies 45 minutes of emergency breathing oxygen and suit pressure.” Unlike the crews of the two previous Apollo landing missions, Lovell and Haise’s snow-white suits would have been easily distinguishable, for the Commander’s ensemble was emblazoned for the first time with red stripes around its elbows and knees for identification. “Another modification since Apollo 12 has been the addition of 8-ounce (225-gram) drinking water bags, attached to the inside neck rings of the EVA suits,” NASA noted. “The crewmen can take a sip of water from the 6 x 8-inch (15 x 20 cm) bag through a 1/8-inch (0.3 cm) tube within reach of his mouth.”

Returning to Aquarius, the astronauts would have grabbed a bite to eat in the broom-closet-sized LM and struggled to catch some sleep. Their second EVA was scheduled to begin at 9:58 p.m. EDT on 16 April 1970, and it would feature the first “real” scientific inspection of the Fra Mauro site. Their EVA-2 traverse was expected to cover 8,700 feet (2,650 meters), of which 4,500 feet (1,370 meters) was the outbound half and 4,200 feet (1,280 meters) was the inbound portion, back toward Aquarius. Two sampling stops on the hilly approach to Cone Crater would have allowed Lovell and Haise to gather rock and soil specimens, potentially from lava flow or Imbrium impact material, and they would have moved slowly uphill to reach the rim of the crater, some 400-600 feet (120-180 meters) above the neighboring terrain.

Jim Lovell performs simulated one-sixth-gravity lunar surface training in January 1970. Photo Credit: NASA

“Almost the entire second EVA will be devoted to Field Geology Investigations and the collection of documental samples,” it was noted in the Apollo 13 Press Kit. “The sample locations will be carefully photographed before and after sampling. The astronauts will carefully describe the setting from which the sample is collected. In addition to specific tasks, the astronauts will be free to photograph and sample phenomena which they judge to be unusual, significant and interesting. The astronauts are provided with a package of detailed photo maps, which they will use for planning traverses. Photographs will be taken from the LM window. Each feature or family of features will be described, relating to features on the photo maps. Areas and features where photographs should be taken and representative samples collected will be marked on the maps. The crew and their ground support personnel will consider real-time deviation from the nominal plan, based upon an on-the-spot analysis of the actual situation.” Both Lovell and Haise would have carried a Lunar Surface Camera, which comprised a modified 70 mm electric Hasselblad.

The two men would put their geological training to good use in collecting several core tube samples, digging a 2-feet-deep (60 cm) trench to evaluate soil mechanics and gas dynamics and collecting a variety of rock samples. During the return journey to the LM, they would have paused at Flank Crater, dug a trench, gathered samples, and bored a 27-inch (68.5 cm) double core tube into the regolith at Weird Crater, before closing out EVA-2 with a soil mechanics sample. Their samples—of which about 95 pounds (43 kg) were planned to be loaded aboard Aquarius’ ascent stage for the return to lunar orbit—would include “core samples, individual rock samples and fine-grained fragments.” Moreover, Lovell and Haise were expected to use a Lunar Stereo Close-up Camera to image “small geological features that would be destroyed in any attempt to gather them for return to Earth.”

In his NASA Oral History, Haise reflected that he and Lovell and their backups—John Young and Charlie Duke—were the first Apollo crew to be extensively schooled by Dr. Lee Silver of California Institute of Technology, together with scientist-astronaut Jack Schmitt. In the months before launch, the prime and backup crews, Silver and Schmitt journeyed into the Orocopia Mountains of southern California, to develop their skills as lunar field geologists. “We would go through two or three exercises a day, using Polaroids in that timeframe, to record the events, and get debriefs from Lee, and discuss geology around a campfire till like 10 or 11 at night,” Haise remembered. “It was a real fast dose and startup of what was kind of the ritual that followed with many of the ensuing field trips, although it got refined in a higher way with equipment we used and more involvement with the back room people who were going to be there during the mission.”

Their lunar explorations concluded, Lovell and Haise would have lifted off from the Moon at 7:22 a.m. EDT on 17 April 1970, after 33.5 hours on the surface, and docked about 3.5 hours later with an undoubtedly very happy Jack Swigert aboard the Apollo 13 Command and Service Module (CSM) Odyssey. During their time apart, Swigert would have pursued his own program of Lunar Orbital Science, using a large-format Lunar Topographic Camera (LTC), known as the “Hycon.” It was a huge device, with an 18-inch (45.7-cm) lens that completely filled the window of the command module’s access hatch. Swigert would have acquired numerous high-resolution black-and-white images in overlapping sequences for use as mosaics or single frames. His key surface targets were candidate landing sites for subsequent Apollo missions, including Censorinus, the crater chain of Davy Rille and the Descartes highland site. So important was it that, after the return of Lovell and Haise, the crew were to spend another full day in lunar orbit using the Hycon and their other complement of cameras.

Barreling away from the Moon following the Trans-Earth Injection (TEI) burn at 1:42 p.m. EDT on 18 April, they were scheduled to splash down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:17 p.m. PDT (3:17 p.m. EDT) on the 21st, completing a mission of just over 10 full days. Although the Fra Mauro site was subsequently visited by the Apollo 14 crew in early 1971—thereby illustrating its significance to lunar science—it remains intensely disappointing that Jim Lovell and Fred Haise never had the opportunity to put their training and experience to the test on the Moon’s surface. It is equally disappointing that Jack Swigert lost his chance to perform exceptional lunar science from orbit. “The crewmen of Apollo 13 have spent more than five hours of formal crew training for each hour of the lunar landing mission’s ten-day duration,” NASA explained in the Press Kit. “More than 1,000 hours of training were in the Apollo 13 crew training syllabus over and above the normal preparations for the mission: technical briefings and reviews, pilot meetings and study.” Lovell and Haise also participated in 20 suited walk-throughs of their EVA activities, covering lunar geology and deployment of experiments, including the ALSEP.

Yet it must be borne in mind that, aside from the loss of a valued lunar landing mission, Lovell, Haise, and Swigert returned alive from arguably the most harrowing episode in America’s early exploration of the heavens. Against all the odds, they and a remarkable team of thousands on Earth tackled huge problems and overcame each one to snatch triumph from potential defeat. “The most frightening moment in this whole thing is when the explosion occurred and then—after a little period of time—saw the oxygen escaping and we didn’t have the solutions to get home,” Lovell told the NASA Oral History Project. “We knew we were in deep, deep trouble.”

For Apollo 13, the primary mission was lost, but in a remarkable feat of human ingenuity and courage, the mission morphed into something entirely new and continued. “I always compare this like a game of solitaire,” said Lovell. “You turn up a card, and that’s a crisis. If you can put it someplace, the mission keeps going.”


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Odp: [AS] For Jack Swigert, On His 83rd Birthday
« Odpowiedź #3 dnia: Kwiecień 11, 2020, 21:30 »
'Bored to Tears': Remembering Apollo 13, 50 Years On (Part 1)
By Ben Evans, on April 7th, 2020 [AS]

Apollo 13’s Latin motto of “Ex Luna, Scientia” (“From the Moon, Knowledge”) highlighted this mission as a voyage of exploration and scientific endeavor. Image Credit: NASA

By the spring of 1970, six months had passed since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin triumphantly fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s pledge to land a man on the Moon before the end of the decade. Their steps on the Sea of Tranquility remain the most remarkable accomplishment of our species, yet the extent to which the public—once enamored by the possibilities of space travel—grew weary and apathetic toward the exploration of the Moon is equally remarkable. When Apollo 12 flew in November 1969, few were watching.

Fewer still were expected to tune in when Apollo 13 launched toward the lunar highlands on 11 April 1970, five decades ago this month. Its crew was heading for a hilly place known as Fra Mauro, thought to contain material evidence from the Moon’s geological youth. But the thrill at home had gone and Americans were more preoccupied with ending an unpopular war in Vietnam and starting a new war on poverty and broken civil rights in their own country. By a perverse quirk of fate, the voyage of Apollo 13, for a few days in the middle of April 1970, refocused the world’s attention on space.

Jim Lovell (left) and Fred Haise inspect a geological specimen during training in far-west Texas in February 1969. The pair were training as backups for the Apollo 11 mission at the time. Photo Credit: NASA

Commanding the mission was veteran astronaut Jim Lovell, who had flown to lunar orbit before  and made no secret of the fact that he yearned to leave his footprints on the Moon’s dusty surface. In August 1969, his wife Marilyn was said to have experienced a superstitious twinge when Lovell told her the fateful number of his mission…but in words taken from Ron Howard’s movie, and probably rooted in real events, he dismissed her concern: “It comes after twelve!” In January 1970, the press made much of NASA’s announcement that the mission would be postponed from 12 March until 11 April; were budget problems to blame, they speculated, or a problem with the spacecraft? Neither was actually the case, and the delay simply represented a “stretching-out” of the remaining lunar missions to give Lovell’s crew more time to plan their orbital and surface science activities. Although Apollo 13 would not launch on Friday the 13th, it was scheduled to launch at 13:13 CDT on Saturday 11th. Surely, crowed the superstitious masses, this was a harbinger of impending doom.

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Apollo 13 post-flight press conference. Video Credit: NASA/JSC/AIRBOYD

The slight delay gave the crew—Lovell, Command Module Pilot (CMP) Ken Mattingly and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Fred Haise—more free time to devote to their families. The backup crew, also, had time to themselves. Haise’s backup, Charlie Duke, happened to visit a friend in late March. Unfortunately, one of his friend’s children had fallen ill with German measles…and Duke succumbed to the ailment. He had routine access to Lovell, Mattingly and Haise on a daily basis and there was very real concern that he had infected them.

Flight surgeons quickly ascertained that Duke was not contagious, but the prime crew found themselves yielding to daily blood tests in their final days on Earth. On 6 April, Lovell and Haise were cleared as probably immune, but Mattingly remained a question mark. The two-week incubation period meant that he might develop full-blown symptoms during the flight. His role on Apollo 13 was critical; although he would not land on the Moon, Mattingly was responsible for the rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit. By the 7th, NASA physician Chuck Berry called for Mattingly to be dropped from the mission.

Capcom Joe Kerwin (right) and the mission’s original Command Module Pilot (CMP), Ken Mattingly, discuss procedures in Mission Control, as Apollo 13 heads back to Earth. Photo Credit: NASA

Jim Lovell complained directly to NASA Administrator Tom Paine, telling him that Mattingly had worked hard and conscientiously and deserved his place on Apollo 13. After all, it was only measles…a relatively mild illness in adults, and even if Mattingly did fall ill, it would probably be during the quiet flight back to Earth. Paine would have none of it. He was fighting Congress to save NASA’s budget—and specifically to save three lunar landing missions from cancellation—and the effect of measles in space (such as blurred vision or swollen joints in the hands) would leave NASA wide open to attack from the critics. One option was to postpone Apollo 13 until the next lunar launch window on 9 May 1970, but that would allow some of the Saturn V rocket’s components to degrade and added costs of $800,000. In hindsight, Lovell wrote in his autobiography, Lost Moon, he should have recommended a delay. However, hindsight is easy when viewed with 20-20 vision. With the flight surgeons calling for Mattingly to be replaced by his backup, Jack Swigert, Lovell had little option but to agree.

In the 1995 movie, Apollo 13, Swigert is unfairly presented as lacking in experience and, at one stage, actor Kevin Bacon described his duties as having to “set up the guest list and book the hotel room” for the launch VIPs. This was far from accurate. Swigert was one of the astronaut office’s most competent pilots, and he and his fellows on the backup crew—Commander John Young and LMP Charlie Duke—were not only ready to step into the shoes of Lovell’s men if needed, but they could actually integrate one of their number into the prime crew. “We were ready to go as a crew,” Duke recalled in a NASA oral history, “and it showed the beauty of the synergy in all of our training that you could take somebody, a week before liftoff, stick him in and everyone felt comfortable.”

Fred Haise, Jack Swigert, and Jim Lovell pose for a pre-flight photo days before their mission. Photo Credit: NASA/The Project Apollo Image Gallery via the Project Apollo Archive

Having said this, Deke Slayton, head of the Flight Crew Operations Directorate (FCOD), had his own reservations. To him, it was like dropping Glenn Miller into Tommy Dorsey’s band; both were great musicians, but each had individual styles. The deciding factor was that the CMP would spend a lot of time alone, so it was reasonable to send Swigert in Mattingly’s stead. Had Lovell or Haise fallen ill, the outcome would almost certainly have been different and likely led to a delay until May.

With Swigert’s addition to the crew, the final days of training were hectic. “Normally, you would literally quit training,” recalled Fred Haise in his NASA oral history, “go off to a beach house and be isolated. Generally, you might read your checklist and go a little fishing…but get rested up for the launch.” Instead, they returned to the simulator to mould themselves into a new team. During one session on 9 April, Swigert proved himself to be a maestro on the command module systems. As for the rest of the crew, Lovell’s prior space experience was the pinnacle of a star-spangled aviation career which saw him narrowly miss selection for Project Mercury. Haise, meanwhile, was described by Ken Mattingly as “the fastest switch-thrower, button-pusher in the West” and a perfect pick for Apollo 13.

Fred Haise practices carrying the panniers of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) during pre-flight training. Photo Credit: NASA

Lovell and Haise’s target on the lunar surface was a hilly region known as Fra Mauro, named in honour of the 15th-century Venetian monk, who completed one of the earliest maps of the Old World. Unlike the flat plains on which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and Charles “Pete” Conrad and Al Bean had walked, Fra Mauro was a rugged island in the middle of the Ocean of Storms. Many geologists believed that the lunar highlands had remained essentially unchanged, geochemically, since the Moon’s formation and might offer some of the oldest rock specimens.

Some rocks had already been associated with violent impacts—such as that which created the yawning basin of Mare Imbrium—and Fra Mauro, some 300 miles (480 km) to the south, was thought to contain some of the ejecta material from this cataclysmic event. If Lovell and Haise could find ejected crustal material from the pre-Imbrium era, it would help geologists to ascertain when the impact occurred and improve their understanding of lunar history. Specifically, the astronauts would explore the 1,000-foot-wide (300-meter) Cone Crater, whose own impact was suspected to have “dug” into a ridge of Imbrium ejecta. Scientifically, Apollo 13 was an exciting mission.

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Apollo 13 launch sequence and simulations. Video Credit: NASA, via lunarmodule5

To reach Fra Mauro, Lovell, Swigert and Haise would approach the Moon slightly differently from earlier crews. Instead of entering a near-circular orbit, they would adopt an elliptical path, with a high point of 68 miles (110 km) and a low point of just 9.3 miles (15 km).

This would mean that Lovell and Haise, in the lunar module “Aquarius”, would not need to perform a descent orbit insertion burn and thus would have an extra 15 seconds of hover time to select an appropriate landing site. Months of training had honed Lovell’s skills and he was aiming for a patch of bright ground, somewhere between two groups of craters, which he had nicknamed “Doublet” and “Triplet”.

Apollo 13 roars into space at 13:13 CDT on 11 April 1970. Photo Credit: NASA

Apollo 13 carried enormous potential for being a scientific bonanza when it speared for space on the afternoon of 11 April 1970. The realization that it might prove to be something out of the ordinary came a few minutes into the ascent, when the centre J-2 engine on the Saturn V’s second stage shut down prematurely. The remaining four engines automatically compensated for the lost thrust by firing an additional 33 seconds, but even this produced a slight shortfall. Finally, the Saturn’s S-IVB final stage had to burn an extra few seconds to get them into low-Earth orbit. The glitch was attributed to “pogo” oscillations and gave Mission Control a momentary fright, but within hours the S-IVB fired a second time to boost Apollo 13 on a four-day journey toward the Moon. Jack Swigert demonstrated his skills by undocking the command and service module, named “Odyssey”, from the S-IVB, swinging it around 180 degrees and extracting Aquarius.

For the first two days of their voyage, the flight was almost perfect. According to Capcom Joe Kerwin, the mission controllers were “bored to tears”, with no problems to work. The chatter between Houston and the three men on their way to the Moon was relaxed and routine. Swigert had forgotten to file his tax returns, prompting a chuckle from Kerwin and an offer to request an extension on his behalf. Even the 13th seemed relatively non-descript…until that evening, just before the crew bedded down for the night. Fifty-five hours after launch, Jim Lovell gave his Earthly audience a tour of the lunar ship—firstly, Aquarius, then back through the connecting tunnel into Odyssey, revealing helmet visors, equipment and hammocks—and ensured that the thunderous strains from 2001: A Space Odyssey was playing in the background.

Pictured during emergency egress training in January 1970, astronauts Jim Lovell (left) and Fred Haise lost their chance to walk on the Moon during Apollo 13. Years later, Lovell would declare that Apollo 13 was his proudest professional hour. Photo Credit: NASA

It was 9:00 p.m. CDT when he bade his audience goodnight. Although most Americans were glued to their televisions that evening, Lovell could hardly have known that their choice of program was not a tour of a Moon-bound spacecraft…but any of the other channels’ offerings: The Doris Day Show, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, Where Bullets Fly, and Here’s Lucy.

In fact, the majority of audience members watching as Lovell, Swigert and Haise traveled to another world were seated in the auditorium of Mission Control. At the back of the room, in a glass-faced gallery, were the astronauts’ families. When Lovell signed off for the night, they were all pleased. In a few days’ time, their menfolk would reach the Moon and begin one of the grandest missions of exploration ever undertaken in human history.

Seven minutes after the telecast ended, disaster struck Apollo 13 and left all three men in mortal danger.


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Odp: [AS] For Jack Swigert, On His 83rd Birthday
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Odp: [AS] 'We Have a Problem': Remembering Apollo 13, 50 Years On
« Odpowiedź #4 dnia: Czerwiec 23, 2020, 02:42 »
'We Have a Problem': Remembering Apollo 13, 50 Years On (Part 2)
By Ben Evans, on April 11th, 2020 [AS]

Gene Kranz (in foreground) watches the Flight Day 3 TV broadcast from Apollo 13. Photo: NASA

Fifty years ago today, on Saturday, 11 April 1970, the third mission aimed at landing humans on the Moon got underway, with a spectacular launch from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. As recounted last weekend by AmericaSpace, Apollo 13 suffered its fair share of misfortunes ahead of launch, when a case of German measles forced NASA to replace Command Module Pilot (CMP) Ken Mattingly with his backup, Jack Swigert, only days before leaving Earth.

A shutdown of the center engine of the Saturn V booster added another moment of drama, but by 13 April—two days into their four-day trek to the Moon—the mission seemed to be proceeding according to schedule.

Artist’s concept of Apollo 13 astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise exploring Fra Mauro. The Lunar Module (LM) Aquarius is visible in the background. Their lost surface explorations subsequently passed to Apollo 14 crewmen Al Shepard and Ed Mitchell. Image Credit: Teledyne Brown

That evening, Commander Jim Lovell proudly showed off his spacecraft to an Earthly audience. Starting with the lunar module, which his crew had named “Aquarius”, Lovell pointed out the helmets, the hammocks and the tools which he and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Fred Haise would use to explore the hilly Fra Mauro region of the Moon. At length, Lovell floated back through a connecting tunnel into the command module, “Odyssey”, wishing his audience a pleasant night’s sleep. In the background, the haunting theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey thundered from a Walkman.

By now, Lovell, Haise and CMP Swigert were halfway to the Moon and their mission appeared to be proceeding perfectly. Flight controllers were bored to tears—the only issue appeared to be Swigert having forgotten to file his income tax returns and, every so often, the mischievous Haise would set off the bang of the cabin relief valve to scare his crewmates. Humanity’s third expedition to the lunar surface, so far, was as exciting to most people on Earth as a third-class train ticket.

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A tiny cryostat would soon turn everyone’s complacency on its head.

Deep within the bowels of the service module were a pair of tanks filled with liquid oxygen and two others, filled with liquid hydrogen. Together, they fed the spacecraft’s fuel cells, providing electricity, heat and drinking water. A few weeks earlier, during a routine test on the launch pad, these tanks had been filled, then drained…and technicians uncovered a problem. For some reason, they were unable to remove all of the liquid oxygen from the No. 2 tank; its quantity dropped to 92 percent and refused to budge any further. Gaseous oxygen was applied in an effort to expel the liquid oxygen, but to no avail.

On 27 March 1970, further attempts were made. Again, they were fruitless. The best option, it seemed, was to “boil” off the remaining liquid oxygen with the tank’s electrical heater. This process took eight hours of 65-volt power from the Ground Support Equipment (GSE). Lovell and Mattingly both agreed that it was safe to fly. They would live to regret the decision.

The conical Command Module and cylindrical Service Module (CSM) is mated to the Saturn V S-IVB to complete the Apollo/Saturn “stack” in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Photo Credit: NASA

The No. 2 tank had a troubled history. It was meant to have flown on Apollo 10, but was removed in late 1968 when it exhibited trouble. In October of that year, it was accidentally dropped—only a small distance, but enough to damage the tubing used to fill and drain its propellants—and that was now at the root of why the tank could not be properly emptied. Unknown to everyone, however, there was another problem: a potentially catastrophic design flaw, whose full effects would not be felt until 55 hours into the Apollo 13 mission, by which time the craft was over 200,000 miles (320,000 km) from Earth. Apollo was originally designed to operate at 28 volts of electrical power, but was upgraded in 1965 to accept 65 volts from GSE. Everything on the spacecraft was modified accordingly, apart from a small thermostat inside the oxygen tank, which was still rated at only 28 volts.

The role of this thermostat was crucial: it would shut off the tank’s heaters when internal temperatures rose above 26 degrees Celsius (78.8 degrees Fahrenheit). No one picked up the error. When the liquid oxygen were boiled off in late March 1970, the thermostat was activated and the excess voltage arced and welded its electrical contacts shut. Outside, monitoring the process, the technician saw nothing amiss, since his gauges went no higher than 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

Surrounded by a cloud of gaseous oxygen, the damaged service module drifts into the distance after being jettisoned, late in the mission. The far-off Moon is also clearly visible. Photo Credit: NASA

In reality, during the eight hours that it took the tank to boil off all of the oxygen, the temperature inside had soared to more than 500 degrees Celsius (930 degrees Fahrenheit). In doing so, it baked and cracked the Teflon covering wires for an electric fan which would stir the tank’s contents in space. When the tank was loaded with liquid oxygen, shortly before launch, there was still Teflon debris and bare electrical wiring inside the tank. Teflon itself is not flammable, but immersed in a pressurized oxygen environment, almost anything would burn. The tank was nothing less than a sitting time bomb.

Two weeks later, at 9:06 p.m. CDT on 13 April, Mission Control issued a last request to Jack Swigert before he retired to bed for the night. He was to flip several switches to stir the oxygen and hydrogen tanks in the service module. Held at super-critical densities at -206 degrees Celsius (-338.8 degrees Fahrenheit), the slushy liquids became stratified in weightlessness and it was often hard for engineers to gain precise quantity readings. Swigert flipped the switches labelled H2 FANS and O2 FANS. As the reverberation of the switch throws died, all was silent in the command module. Then, without warning, the entire spacecraft shuddered with a dull bang…and fell quiet once more.

Jim Lovell highlights the cramped nature of the Lunar Module (LM) Aquarius. This craft would have provided a home on the Moon for himself and Haise for 33.5 hours. Photo Credit: NASA

Jim Lovell was floating back through the tunnel from Aquarius and both he and Swigert thought that Fred Haise had set off the cabin relief valve…until Haise’s eyes convinced them otherwise. In fact, wrote Lovell, in his autobiography, Lost Moon, the bang had left all three of them “truly, wholly, profoundly frightened”.

If they had known what had happened—that the electric fan had caused the bare wiring to short, which caused a spark to ignite the Teflon fragments, which caused a violent explosion to blow the top off the No. 2 tank, which caused a puncturing of the No. 1 tank and which tore an entire panel away from the service module—the astronauts would surely have been far more frightened. For now, their attention was halted by the sound of the master alarm and a red warning light, whose message was worrying. It read “Main Bus B Undervolt”, and its illumination told them that there had been an abrupt power loss from one of the ship’s two main electrical buses. If the warning was for real—and was not an instrumentation glitch—it signaled very bad news. If their life-sustaining oxygen was bleeding away, then Lovell, Swigert and Haise were dead men floating.

Jim Lovell and Fred Haise participate in lunar surface training in February 1970. Their target was the Moon’s Fra Mauro foothills. Photo Credit: NASA

Swigert’s shout was the first call to Mission Control. “Hey, we’ve got a problem here.”

“This is Houston,” replied Capcom Jack Lousma, somewhat puzzled. “Say again, please.”

Now it was Jim Lovell’s voice which crackled across the 200,000 miles (320,000 km) back to the ears of Lousma in Mission Control. “Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a Main B Bus Undervolt.”

“Roger, Main B Undervolt,” verified Lousma. “Okay, stand by, 13, we’re looking at it.”

The man in charge of “looking at it” was Seymour “Sy” Liebergot, the flight controller in charge of Apollo 13’s electrical, environmental and communications systems, callsigned “EECOM”. Months of training had imbued Liebergot with the skills to identify the tell-tale indicators of problems, before they emerged…and the dangers of missing something had bitten him on several occasions. Any likelihood that the problem facing Apollo 13 was just an instrumentation error was eliminated by the crew, who had not only seen the warning, but had heard the bang and most certainly felt the vibration. It was a sound which Lovell later likened to a thunderclap and Haise, returning to the command module, had seen the walls of the connecting tunnel visibly flex all around him.

In this view from Apollo 14, which completed the mission where Apollo 13 had failed, a field of boulders leads towards the rim of Cone Crater. The region of Fra Mauro a Cone Crater were thought to harbour specimens from the ‘original’ lunar crust, ejected by the impact which created Mare Imbrium, 300 miles (480 km) to the north. Photo Credit: NASA

On the ground, controllers could only watch in horror as the quantity and pressure readings for the No. 2 oxygen tank plummeted to zero. From their seats, the astronauts saw the same thing. More warning lights glowed: now two of the three fuel cells were dead and the No. 1 tank’s oxygen was steadily dwindling away. Lovell could not believe his eyes. Oxygen tanks were built with the fewest number of parts possible, to make the likelihood of a breakdown infinitesimally small. Even if one tank failed, its twin was more than capable of powering all three fuel cells and, in turn, running both the A and B electrical buses. “The probability of any one of these components failing,” wrote Lovell, “was down in the multi-multi-decimal places. The probability of one tank, two fuel cells and one bus failing, at the same time, was off the numerical charts!”

The maxim was simple and they had all learned it through their training: structural things don’t break. “Fluid lines and joints can leak,” Ken Mattingly told the NASA oral historian, years later, “but physical structure doesn’t break. The reason we had that rule is that if you admitted to that, then the number of things you could have to prepare for is infinite. So we never looked at those kinds of implications.”

Now, a calamity of the most dire proportions was unfolding, second by second. The bang and associated problems had caused Odyssey’s computer to restart, whilst the high-gain antenna stopped working and switched communications to four smaller omni-directional antennas. Fred Haise knew that Bus B was now virtually dead and set to work reconnecting the command module’s systems to Bus A … only to discover that it, too, was starved of electrical current. Only one fuel cell was now producing current. A landing on the Moon could not occur with only one operational fuel cell. Thirteen minutes after the bang, Lovell was midway through a fruitless effort to stabilize the craft with his hand controller when, irritated, he floated to the window and craned his neck to look outside.

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Audio footage of the events surrounding the Apollo 13 contingency on the evening of 13 April 1970. Video Credit: NASA/Ulysses777x

What he saw made his blood run cold.

Twirling away into the blackness, like cigarette smoke, was a thin, whitish cloud of gas, emerging from the side of the service module. As soon as it entered space, it crystallized and formed a vast halo. Apollo 13 was leaking.

“Houston,” Lovell radioed, “we are venting something out into space. It’s a gas of some sort.” Jack Lousma acknowledged his call.

It was at this point, wrote Flight Director Gene Kranz in his autobiography, Failure Is Not An Option, that all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. As head of the White Team, Kranz was the most senior of Apollo 13’s four flight directors and the shock which rippled through Mission Control was tangible. “The controllers,” he wrote, “felt they were toppling into an abyss.” An explosion and the venting of oxygen had caused all of the problems which were now being seen, felt, and heard. The jolt of the blast had snapped shut the fuel cells’ reactant valves, effectively cutting the supply of cryogens and starving the electrical system. Fuel valves to the thrusters had closed, making it difficult for the astronauts to regain control, and the propulsive effect of the venting oxygen meant that the antenna could not focus properly on Earth.

As the evening of the 13th wore on, a new mission was already taking shape…one whose modus operandi had changed from landing on the Moon to dealing with an instrumentation problem to finding a coherent way of getting three men home alive.


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Odp: [AS] 'Up to You Now': Remembering Apollo 13, 50 Years On
« Odpowiedź #5 dnia: Czerwiec 23, 2020, 02:44 »
'Up to You Now': Remembering Apollo 13, 50 Years On (Part 3)
By Ben Evans, on April 12th, 2020

Astronauts gather in Mission Control at the height of the crisis. Seated (from left) are Deke Slayton, Jack Lousma and John Young, with Ken Mattingly and Vance Brand standing. Photo Credit: NASA

Fifty years ago, this week, the lives of three humans literally hung in the balance, more than 200,000 miles (320,000 km) from Earth. For weeks, the superstitious naysayers had labeled Apollo 13 as “unlucky”, but until the evening of 13 April 1970 all had gone well. Flight controllers had joked that they were “bored to tears” as the spacecraft behaved so well.

Then, with horrifying abruptness, a calamity engulfed Apollo 13 which not only threatened its chances of landing on the Moon, but placed Commander Jim Lovell, Command Module Pilot (CMP) Jack Swigert and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Fred Haise in dire peril. As related by AmericaSpace earlier this month, one of two oxygen tanks in the ship’s service module had exploded, puncturing the other and had blown out an entire side panel. Now, as life-sustaining oxygen poured into space, controllability was lost, communications were sporadic and the crew and Mission Control realized they were in a life-or-death struggle.

The man in charge of the electrical, environmental, and communications systems, known as “EECOM”, was Seymour “Sy” Liebergot. He knew that the situation was dire. Two of the command module Odyssey’s fuel cells were dead and the third was in the process of dying; but if the reactant valves to the dead cells could be closed, it might allow them to isolate the problem and save whatever was left in the final cell. “Shutting off the valves either would stop the bleeding,” wrote Jim Lovell in his autobiography, Lost Moon, “allowing Odyssey to stabilize itself and power back up, or it would do nothing at all, allowing the controllers to give up on the ship altogether.” But shutting down those valves was a desperate endeavor—for they could not be restarted in flight and it would be an acknowledgement that Apollo 13 was now an aborted mission.

White Team Flight Director Gene Kranz agreed with Liebergot. He was well aware that the prospect of a lunar landing was now gone and the intricate, ten-day flight plan had morphed into a totally new mission: one with the singular goal of getting the three men home alive. Still, when fellow astronaut Jack Lousma, seated at the Capcom’s console at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston, Texas, radioed the news, it was met with crushing disappointment by the crew.

“We want you to close the react valve on fuel cell 3. You copy?”

Seen later in the mission, the damage to an entire side panel of Apollo 13’s service module is apparent. It remains miraculous that the crew survived. Photo Credit: NASA

Humanity’s third lunar landing mission was over, before it had even begun, and the ultimate prize for Lovell and Haise—becoming the fifth and sixth men to set foot on the Moon—would instead go to another pair of space travelers.

At this point, the obvious course of action might have been to use the service module’s Service Propulsion System (SPS) engine to swing the ship in a great U-turn and bring the astronauts back to Earth; a so-called “Direct Abort”. Certainly, Milt Windler, flight director of the Maroon Team, initially favored this option, but was vetoed by Kranz and Black Team flight director Glynn Lunney. They argued that there was still no clear understanding of what had caused the explosion and how badly damaged the service module really was. If the SPS had been crippled, a direct abort might be dangerous. The presence of the lunar module Aquarius might buy them some time and keep another option open. Seated at Kranz’ console, Chris Kraft—the deputy director of the MSC, who had been called at home and pulled out of the shower by his wife to rush into Mission Control—agreed that a direct abort would close off too many options. It was too risky.

In an image recorded on an earlier mission, this view shows the lunar module’s forward instrument panel. In the hours after the explosion, the Apollo 13 crew would retreat to the lunar module, Aquarius, whose electrical power and oxygen reserves would keep them alive for most of the journey back to Earth. The three men would crowd into a space roughly the size of a small broom cupboard. Photo Credit: NASA

Other controllers felt the same way. There was some inexplicable sense of dread which warned them to not even attempt to fire the SPS. In any case, the explosion had left Apollo 13 with insufficient electricity to open valves to the engine’s combustion chamber, swivel its nozzle and steer a five-minute burn, so the decision quickly became moot. The only available option was to continue their journey to the Moon, loop around it and re-establish themselves on the free-return trajectory. And that meant Lovell, Swigert and Haise would be forced to exist for long enough to make it back home. Central to the plan was Aquarius itself. The astronauts knew it and Mission Control knew it.

“We’re starting to think about the LM lifeboat,” radioed Jack Lousma.

“That’s what we’ve been thinking about, too,” replied Swigert.

By this time, Lovell and Haise had already made their way through the tunnel to the lunar module, in the hope that they could condense a two-hour systems activation checklist into around 30 minutes. Aquarius’ descent engine did have enough impetus to place them back onto a free-return trajectory, but only Odyssey could survive the furnace heat of re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere and bring the three men home. Quickly, Swigert began shutting down a fifth of the command module’s systems, to conserve what little power was left. At length, all systems would be shut down, including the critical guidance platform and the computer.

Jack Swigert handles one of the impromptu carbon dioxide scrubbers, late in the mission. Photo Credit: NASA

When they neared Earth, the astronauts would evacuate Aquarius and move into Odyssey, whose systems would have to be reactivated after a three-day deep freeze. The command module’s batteries—offering only ten hours of life—would then be relied upon for control during re-entry, to deploy the parachutes and to ensure a survivable splashdown.

But before Swigert could shut down Odyssey, the guidance and control of Apollo 13 had to be shifted over to Aquarius’ computer, and that was no easy task. The craft was still surrounded by debris from the explosion—maybe 7.5 miles (12 km) wide or more—and this glinted in the fierce sunlight, making it virtually impossible to gain reliable star “fixes” for navigation. Lovell and Haise were therefore obliged to copy, by hand, all of the navigational and alignment data from Odyssey’s computer, calculate the different frames of reference between the two craft and input them into Aquarius’ computer. Moreover, they had to do all of this with great haste, for the command module was minutes away from death.

Lovell must have remembered emergency training scenarios on the ground, in which he had been obliged to do manual navigation, and he had made mistakes. Now, in space, Haise urged him to take his time. It was late in the evening and Lovell was exhausted; he asked Lousma to double-check his arithmetic before inputting it into the computer.

In this astonishing view, captured from the command module Odyssey, shortly after separation on 17 April, the full damage to Apollo 13’s service module is shockingly apparent. One entire side panel had been lost and the ship’s oxygen and electrical supply had been crippled, placing Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise in dire peril. Photo Credit: NASA

At length, he yelled up the tunnel to Swigert to shut down the rest of Odyssey’s systems. At 12:51 a.m. CDT on 14 April 1970, the command module fell silent as a crypt. As Jack Swigert left his craft and entered Aquarius, he must have hoped with every fibre of his being that Apollo 13 would not become their crypt in the days to follow. Looking into his crewmates’ eyes, he had only five words for them: “It’s up to you now.”

Lovell and Haise were two of the most competent experts in lunar module systems, but steering the entire spacecraft from Aquarius was awkward and bore some similarities to steering a wheelbarrow down the street with a long-handled broom. Two hours after shutting down Odyssey, at 2:43 p.m. CDT, Lovell fired the descent engine for precisely 30.7 seconds, thus re-establishing Apollo 13 on a free-return trajectory and committing them to a splashdown somewhere in the Indian Ocean.

“How do you like this sim?” quipped Lousma.

“It’s a beauty,” Lovell shot back. No simulation on Earth had ever been this dire.

Splashing down in the Indian Ocean was problematic, because it was far from any of the U.S. Navy’s recovery ships and it would require four full days to get back to Earth. This was significantly longer than Aquarius’ systems could sustain the three men. Could the SPS engine be burned as they swung around the Moon? This might bring them into the Atlantic, off the Brazilian coastline, in 38 hours…but the plan fell victim, again, to the unknown damage to the service module’s engine.

Could the service module itself be jettisoned and Aquarius made to perform a “long” burn of its descent engine, thereby shaving off more time? That could bring Odyssey into the South Atlantic in 40 hours. Many controllers, though, wanted the service module to stay put; it covered Odyssey’s heat shield and there were real fears that solar ultraviolet radiation and temperature variations in cislunar space could impair its ability to protect them during re-entry. It too was rejected. In any case, the 30.7-second burn had been so good that Lovell and Haise would probably not need to make any further firings; they were back on the free-return trajectory, which would guide them back to Earth. Whether or not they would still be alive by the time that Odyssey hit the ocean was another issue.

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Their predicament had by now reached the media. At first, reports were issued by the television networks, informing audiences that there had been an accident aboard Apollo 13, but that the crew “were in no immediate danger.” The true severity of what had occurred came in Chris Kraft’s comment to a journalist during the night. When asked for his assessment of the situation, Kraft responded: “I would say that this is about as serious a situation as we’ve ever had in manned spaceflight.” Even after burning Aquarius’ engine and setting themselves back onto the free-return trajectory, the chances were slim. Years later, Lovell remarked that, if someone had given him Apollo 13’s list of problems before launch and asked for his judgement on chances, “I’d have said they were virtually nil.”

The planned traverses for Apollo 13’s first EVA (red line) and second EVA (black line), together with extensions (yellow line). These excursions would have brought Jim Lovell and Fred Haise to the rim of Cone Crater. The explosion canceled all such plans. Photo Credit: NASA

Perversely, the explosion could not really have happened at a better time. If the stir of the service module’s cryogenic tanks and the resultant blast had occurred earlier in the mission, there would have been insufficient stores of electrical power and water to even sustain them for the swing around the Moon…and if it had occurred later, after Lovell and Haise’s landing, there would have been no descent engine to press into service at all. “We could probably have gotten up and rendezvoused with the command module,” Lovell said, “but we wouldn’t have had any fuel to go home.”

Four main issues required resolution: oxygen, carbon dioxide, electricity and water. Oxygen was aplenty, particularly since two Moonwalks had been planned, both of which would have involved totally venting the cabin and repressurizing it from tanks in the descent stage. Lovell and Haise’s space suit backpacks also had their own reserves. Haise calculated that Aquarius’ oxygen stores could keep them alive for eight to ten days.

Carbon dioxide from the astronauts’ exhaled breath, though, was more difficult to overcome. Normally, it was removed by a canister of lithium hydroxide, which “scrubbed” it from the air to ensure that it did not accumulate to toxic levels. Unchecked, it would kill the crew: firstly by giving them severe headaches, then racing hearts, drowsiness, and finally death. The lander was designed to accommodate a crew for a maximum of 45 hours, and had five lithium hydroxide canisters … but the journey back to Earth would take 90 hours. More canisters were needed, but the two vehicles had been designed by different companies (North American Rockwell and Grumman) and the lithium hydroxide canisters in the command module were square, whereas those of the lander had been designed to fit a round hole: They simply could not be plugged into Aquarius’ environmental controls.

After a day and a half aboard the lunar module, a warning light illuminated to advise that the carbon dioxide was climbing toward toxic levels. Ed Smylie, head of NASA’s Crew Systems Division, developed a means of overcoming this hurdle. In a day and a half, his team had conceived a routine to build something which resembled a mailbox from materials that Lovell, Swigert, and Haise had aboard: sections of duct tape, socks, the ripped-off cover of a flight plan, the oxygen hose from a space suit, and a few plastic bags.

In Ron Howard’s 1995 movie, Apollo 13, Smylie and his team were portrayed dumping an assortment of bric-a-brac onto a table and clumsily sorting through it, during a coffee-fueled, round-the-clock effort to cobble something together to save the astronauts. The reality was quite different, and better organized. “If you saw the movie, it wasn’t like that,” Smylie said later. “Everything is pretty calm, cool and collected in our business.” It was also surprisingly elegant: Encased and taped within plastic bags, the box boasted little fashioned “archways” at the top to keep it from being sucked against the inlet screens. This improvisation was critical in keeping the crew alive long enough to return to Earth, and Fred Haise would later praise its creators with words to this effect. After the instructions had been radioed up, the astronauts dug out the bits and pieces and spent about an hour building a pair of boxes. Within six hours of fitting the first one into place, the carbon dioxide level in the lunar module began to fall and, at length, became unmeasurable. The astronauts photographed their work for posterity, and when they returned to Earth they found that their boxes were remarkably similar to what was intended.

As Flight Director of the White Team, Gene Kranz (right foreground, smoking cigar) was the most senior of Apollo 13’s four flight directors. His staff formed a ‘tiger team’ in the hours after the explosion, which planned for every contingency…including bringing the systems of the command module Odyssey back from the dead. Photo Credit: NASA

The next issue was electricity, since Aquarius had no fuel cells and ran exclusively on batteries. It was capable of a 33-hour stay on the Moon and two surface EVAs. To keep it operational for more than two days meant turning off its cabin lights, its gauges, and even its computer. During quiet times, Haise thumbed through his procedures book to add up the requirements for individual components and determined that they could operate on 18-20 amps at minimum power, switching virtually everything off, apart from the air circulation fan and glycol coolant system to keep themselves and the lander alive and, of course, the radio to talk to Houston. That should be enough, he figured, to see them through to the time when they would have to re-enter the command module for the return to Earth.

Cooling water for the lander’s systems, finally, was the resource in real short supply; Haise anticipated that it would run out five or six hours before re-entry. However, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin jettisoned the ascent stage of their lander, Eagle, in July 1969, for an engineering test, they deliberately left all of its systems running and turned off its water supply…and it continued transmitting valuable data for no less than eight hours, until it finally overheated. Haise was certain that Aquarius could do at least as well. His certainty was shared by many experts in Mission Control, and by the fifth day of the mission, it seemed likely that—barring any further problems—they would probably make it.


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Odp: [AS] 'Our Finest Hour': Remembering Apollo 13, 50 Years On
« Odpowiedź #6 dnia: Czerwiec 23, 2020, 02:45 »
'Our Finest Hour': Remembering Apollo 13, 50 Years On (Part 4)
By Ben Evans, on April 17th, 2020

Apollo 13 back on Earth. Photo: NASA

By the middle of April 1970, Project Apollo—America’s effort to land a man on the lunar surface—had reached one of its most decisive points of crisis. As described in last weekend’s AmericaSpace history feature, an explosion rocked the Apollo 13 spacecraft, halfway to the Moon, destroying one oxygen tank, puncturing the second, and effectively crippling both the mission and its crew of Commander Jim Lovell, Command Module Pilot (CMP) Jack Swigert and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Fred Haise. If Lovell had been asked, before liftoff, what the chances of survival might have been in such a dire situation, his response would have been “Nil”. Yet within hours of the explosion, a heroic rescue plan was conceived between the astronauts and Mission Control. It carried tremendous risk, yet promised the greatest possible return: the survival of the crew.

On the evening of 14 April, one of the most critical events in that plan got underway. Two hours after making their closest approach to the Moon (properly termed “pericynthion”), the plan called for the astronauts to perform a long burn of the lunar module Aquarius’ descent engine. This engine would ordinarily have been used to carry Lovell and Haise down to the surface, but was now being employed for a more important role of salvation. Since it occurred two hours after pericynthion, the burn was nicknamed “PC+2”. Lovell was worried about the burn. More than 20 hours had elapsed since Aquarius had taken over navigational control of Apollo 13 from the command module Odyssey, and he was concerned that its platform might have significantly “drifted”. Significantly, the debris field all around them meant that star sightings were virtually impossible, unless conducted in the Moon’s shadow, and time would not be on their side. At this stage, Capcom Charlie Duke radioed up instructions for a solution. They were to use the only star that they could see clearly—the Sun—to make an alignment sighting. It worked.

The PC+2 burn duly took place at 8:40 p.m. CDT on the 14th and lasted for 4.5 minutes, effectively cutting a sizeable chunk of time off Apollo 13’s return journey and committing Odyssey to a splashdown in the mid-Pacific on the 17th. Conditions, though, were still dire. The three men were living in the lunar module’s ascent stage cabin, which was about the size of a small broom cupboard.

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Video Credit: NASA

Moreover, many of the lander’s systems had been shut down in anticipation of the PC+2 burn and temperatures fell dramatically. Odyssey itself had been cold almost a full day and since there was no way to close the connecting hatches, the large volume was too big to keep warm. “We got clammy,” Lovell wrote in his autobiography, Lost Moon. “Moisture started to form on the metal pieces of the spacecraft and all the couches and the windows were foamed up and running with water. It was not a very pleasant journey.”

Every so often, one of them might retreat to the darkened Odyssey to catch some sleep, but this was almost impossible in an environment which could only be compared to a dark, dank cellar. None of the men could eat properly. On one occasion, Swigert went to fetch some foil-wrapped hot dogs from the food locker, only to find them frozen solid! Limited water supplies meant that the crew quickly became dehydrated, and the risk of nudging Apollo 13 off-course meant that they could no longer perform urine dumps out of the side of the spacecraft.

By the time they got back to Earth, their dehydration would be severe and Fred Haise was found to have developed a kidney infection. Before launch, the flight surgeons warned the astronauts that if they did not consume and pass sufficient water during the mission, their bodies could not excrete toxins, which, in turn, would accumulate in their kidneys. The resultant infection remained with Haise throughout the return journey, manifesting itself in a burning sensation whenever he urinated. (After splashdown, he would be whisked to the infirmary and would be conspicuously absent from many of the post-flight tours, including a tickertape parade in Chicago.)

Still, home beckoned. By the morning of 17 April, Mission Control knew that the crisis had reached its last major stage: for they had to somehow revive the command module Odyssey from almost four days in deep freeze and bring its systems back to life for the fiery, 25,000 mph (40,000 km/h) descent through the atmosphere. Its controllability had to be precise, its parachutes had to deploy perfectly and on schedule…and yet, with moisture dripping from every surface, there was no way of knowing if it would even power back up, let alone avoid some form of electrical short. Jim Lovell was not alone in his fear that moisture lurked behind Odyssey’s control panels, and he considered it inevitable that they would experience problems.

The man in charge of reactivating Odyssey was Jack Swigert. He knew that the process had to occur in a specific sequence, and he also knew that re-entry could not be postponed, so it had to happen perfectly, first time. Normally, it took three months to write a detailed, step-by-step, circuit-breaker-by-circuit-breaker checklist for re-entry. Now, however, the systems maestros in Mission Control had devised the procedures for Swigert in less than two days. Instrumental in this remarkable process were White Team Flight Director Gene Kranz and his men, who had formed a “tiger team” shortly after the explosion to plan everything from the PC+2 burn to the platform alignment to mid-course corrections to the procedures for re-entry. Within Kranz’ team were three groups: the first wrote instructions for each procedure, the second translated those instructions into checklists for the crew, and the third ensured that none of the steps would overwhelm the meager power levels of Odyssey or Aquarius.

One mid-course correction, to keep the spacecraft on a perfect course, had been performed late on 15 April. Lovell was instructed to orient Apollo 13, such that the Sun shone directly through Aquarius’ overhead rendezvous window; he would rotate the entire spacecraft “stack” until the crescent Earth appeared in his forward triangular window. When the “horns” of the crescent touched the crosshairs of the window, Lovell would burn the descent engine for 14 seconds. With Lovell in control, Haise maintaining orientation in pitch, and Swigert tracking the time, the burn had been perfect…and all the more remarkable for three exhausted, cold, and mentally depleted men.

Back on the ground, Apollo 13 backup crewmen John Young and Charlie Duke, together with Apollo 14 backups Gene Cernan and Joe Engle, had rehearsed procedures in the lunar module simulator, whilst Ken Mattingly had sweated the details of the re-entry checklist in the command module simulator. Had it not been for exposure to German measles, Mattingly might have been aboard Apollo 13 himself. His role now was to ensure the Odyssey’s switches were thrown in exactly the right order and systems reactivated in precisely the right way to avoid overstressing the batteries. Lovell knew and trusted Mattingly implicitly and had been furious when the measles incident had grounded him; now he used a series of code words to Mission Control to find out if his former crewmate had come down with measles.

One exchange between Lovell and Gold Team Capcom Vance Brand garnered some humor.

“Are the flowers in bloom in Houston?” Lovell asked, pointedly.

“Nope, not yet,” replied Brand. “Still must be winter.”

“Suspicions confirmed.”

At 7:30 p.m. CDT on the 16th, Mattingly finally walked into Mission Control, carrying a sheaf of papers, detailing every power-up and re-entry procedure for Odyssey’s systems. He sat down next to Brand and plugged his headset into the Capcom’s loop. “Hello, Aquarius, Houston. How do you read?”

“Okay,” replied a clearly happy Swigert. “Very good, Ken.”

“Let me take it from the top here.” For the next two hours, Mattingly and Swigert plunged into a 39-page, 400-step checklist, which established every switch throw and keystroke needed to bring Odyssey back from the dead. Tiredness and dehydration had already led to the astronauts making mistakes. Even flight-experienced Lovell had accidentally called up the computer program for Aquarius’ descent engine at one stage, instead of the maneuvering thrusters, and Swigert knew that every step was crucial. In fact, no step was more crucial than jettisoning the crippled service module, and Swigert worried that he might eject the wrong module—Aquarius—by mistake, with his crewmates still inside. All three men were exhausted, hungry, thirsty, cold and well aware that, despite all their efforts, there was only a slim chance of survival. To make sure that he did not screw up, Swigert taped a bit of paper over the toggle switch for LM JETTISON. The note to himself read simply: “No.” He triple-checked it and invited a bemused Haise aboard to verify that it was correct.

At 7:16 a.m. CDT on the 17th, he pushed the SM JETTISON button and heard the unmistakable bang of exploding pyrotechnics. In the moments that followed, the true extent of what they had endured for four days became horrifyingly apparent.

Clearly visible in the glint of harsh sunlight, the service module rotated its damaged side panel into their line of sight. All three men gasped and shot photograph after photograph. “There’s one whole side of that spacecraft missing,” reported an astonished Lovell. Capcom Joe Kerwin’s efforts to make light of the situation—quipping that Lovell should have taken better care of his ship—fell on deaf ears. A massive panel, some 13 feet (4 meters) long and covering a sixth of the service module’s hull, was gone, leaving nothing but shredded wires and a jumble of fractured plumbing. The S-band antenna had been bent out of position and the damage did impair the giant Service Propulsion System (SPS) engine…and, worryingly, did extend right up to the ring which supported the base of Odyssey itself. And that base carried something of vital importance: the heat shield, which would be the command module’s only defense against the furnace of re-entry.

Nothing could be done but wait and hope. As the clocks struck ten in Houston that morning, Swigert and Haise worked through the final power-up procedures inside Odyssey, their eyes keenly on the lookout for sparks and their noses tuned to the slightest trace of smoke in the chilled air. Against all odds, everything ran smoothly. With all three men buttoned up inside the command module, Swigert jettisoned Aquarius. Years later, their last glimpse of the “good ship” drifting away into the inky blackness would bring sorrow, and Haise wished that it could have been brought home and put into a museum. Alas, Aquarius had no heat shield and its fate would be a fiery Viking funeral, plunging back to Earth in a shower of burning debris.

Alone now, the cone-shaped command module plunged homeward at a lunar-return velocity of 25,000 mph (40,000 km/h), hitting the upper atmosphere at 11:53 a.m. CDT. Shortly thereafter, a sheath of super-heated plasma blocked out radio communications for an anticipated three minutes. Much has been written of the over-hyped drama of Ron Howard’s movie, Apollo 13, but his depiction of the raw, pervasive fear in Mission Control during this silent time is very close to reality.

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Video Credit: NASA/AIRBOYD/YouTube

Only Joe Kerwin’s voice punctured the silence.

“Odyssey, Houston,” he radioed. “Standing by.”

Silence reigned, both from the returning crew and in Mission Control. Fuzzy television views of a desolate stretch of the Pacific Ocean showed nothing. Recovery forces from the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima—including a detachment of U.S. Marine Corps helicopters—had already been scrambled as part of Task Force 130, the massive search and rescue operation for Apollo 13.

Three minutes stretched agonizingly to four. Odyssey had re-entered the atmosphere at a slightly different angle than predicted, meaning that the communications blackout was somewhat longer. That time difference now seemed interminable.

At length, a Boeing EC-135 aircraft, specially modified for telemetry and tracking, reported that it had acquired a signal from the rapidly descending Odyssey…but there was still no word from the astronauts.

“Odyssey, Houston,” Kerwin repeated. “Standing by.”


The command module Odyssey descends to the waters of the Pacific Ocean on 17 April 1970. Against all the odds, the “successful failure” had become NASA’s finest hour. Photo Credit: NASA

Then, a slight change in the nature of the static occurred. And then came a voice. It was Jack Swigert. “Okay, Joe.” Still there could be no release of tension: not until the parachutes deployed, and deployed successfully, could it be known that the astronauts were home safe. Seconds later, a television camera aboard the Iwo Jima picked up the dark cone of the command module, hanging beneath three parachutes, amongst the clouds. It was then that everyone in Mission Control applauded.

“Odyssey, Houston, we show you on the mains,” yelled Kerwin, as the television screen revealed the great orange-and-white canopies of the main chutes. “It really looks great!” Splashdown at 12:07 p.m. CDT—10:07 a.m. in the Pacific—was smooth. Forty-five minutes later, the three astronauts were safely aboard the Iwo Jima. Bearded, pale and exhausted, they stood on the deck, listening to the cheers of the ship’s crew and a rousing rendition of Aquarius by its military band.

In the days that followed, the men would receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, and perhaps equally fittingly the heroes of the Mission Operations Team—represented by Apollo 13’s four flight directors, Gene Kranz, Glynn Lunney, Milt Windler and Gerry Griffin—were similarly acknowledged. “Three brave astronauts,” intoned President Richard M. Nixon, as he gave the awards, “are alive and on Earth because of their dedication and because, at the critical moments, the people of that team were wise enough and self-possessed enough to make the right decisions. Their extraordinary feat is a tribute to man’s ingenuity, to his resourcefulness and to his courage.”

President Richard M. Nixon congratulates Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell, following the safe return of the crew. Photo Credit: NASA

Never were more accurate words spoken. Apollo 13’s greatest legacy is that it demonstrated the capabilities and heroism of the entire NASA team. Of these, the astronauts had performed admirably under the most extreme duress, but Nixon’s words paid tribute to the unsung heroes, represented at the podium by the four flight directors. Most visible were heroes such as Ed Smylie, whose team built the carbon dioxide scrubber, and Ken Mattingly, who recoiled from crushing disappointment to play a vital role in saving the mission, and Seymour “Sy” Liebergot, one of the first to comprehend the enormity of the accident and begin steps to respond to it. Yet thousands more worked behind the scenes, giving up sleep, sustenance, and time with their families to go to their offices, by day and by night, for four solid days, to save three men’s lives.

In his 1995 movie, Ron Howard has Gene Kranz, played by actor Ed Harris, utter the immortal words: “This was our finest hour.” Indeed it was.


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Odp: [AS] 'Our Finest Hour': Remembering Apollo 13, 50 Years On
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