April 11, 1970, Apollo 13, the third lunar landing mission, is launched successfully from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying astronauts James A. Lovell, John L. Swigert and Fred W. Haise. The spacecraft’s destination was the Highlands of the Moon by Fra Mauro, where astronauts were to explore the Imbrium basin and conduct geological experiments. After the explosion of an oxygen tank on the evening of April 13, the new mission objective became to obtain the Apollo 13 the crew home alive.
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9:00 p.m. EST on April 13 Apollo 13 was just over 200,000 miles from Earth. The crew had just finished a TV show and were inspecting Aquarius, the landing module (LM). The next day, Apollo 13 was to enter the orbit of the moon, and soon after, Lovell and Haise would become the fifth and sixth men to walk on the moon. At 9:08 p.m., those plans were shattered when an explosion rocked the spacecraft. Oxygen Tank # 2 had exploded, disabling the normal supply of oxygen, electricity, light and water. Lovell reported to mission control, “Houston, we had a problem here,” and the crew were quick to find out what had happened. A few minutes later, Lovell looked out the left window and saw that the spacecraft was giving off gas, which turned out to be Command Module (CM) oxygen. The landing mission was abandoned.
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As the CM lost pressure, its fuel cells also died, and an hour after the explosion, mission control instructed the crew to move to the LM, which had sufficient oxygen, and use it as a rescue boat. The CM has been arrested but should be brought back online for re-entry to Earth. The LM was designed to transport CM astronauts into orbit on the surface of the moon and vice versa; its power supply was intended to support two people for 45 hours. If the crew of Apollo 13 to return alive to Earth, the LM would have to support three men for at least 90 hours and successfully navigate over 200,000 miles of space. The crew and mission control faced a formidable task.
To complete its long journey, the LM needed power and cooling water. Both were to be kept at the expense of the crew, who consumed a fifth of water rations and would later endure cabin temperatures that hovered a few degrees above freezing. Removal of carbon dioxide was also an issue, as the CM’s square lithium hydroxide cartridges were not compatible with the round openings of the LM environmental system. Mission Control constructed an impromptu adapter from materials known to be on board, and the crew successfully copied their model.
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Navigation was also a major problem. The LM lacked a sophisticated navigation system, and astronauts and mission control had to manually determine the changes in propulsion and direction needed to bring the spacecraft home. April 14 Apollo 13 swayed around the moon. Swigert and Haise took photos, and Lovell spoke with mission control about the toughest maneuver, a five-minute engine burn that would give the LM enough speed to get home before its energy ran out. . Two hours after circling around the other side of the moon, the crew, using the sun as an alignment point, set the LM’s small descent engine on fire. The procedure was a success; Apollo 13 was on the way home.
For the next three days, Lovell, Haise, and Swigert huddled in the freezing lunar module. Haise developed a case of the flu. Mission control spent this time frantically trying to develop a procedure that would allow astronauts to restart the CM for re-entry. On April 17, a last minute navigation correction was made, this time using Earth as an alignment guide. Then the repressurized CM was successfully energized after her long, cold sleep. The heavily damaged service module was abandoned and one hour before re-entry, the LM was cleared from the CM. Just before 1 p.m., the spacecraft re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. Mission control feared that the CM’s heat shields were damaged in the crash, but after four minutes of radio silence Apollo 13The parachutes were spotted and the astronauts dove safely into the Pacific Ocean.
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