For almost 56 hours after the launch of the Apollo 13 mission on April 11, 1970, it appeared to be the smoothest flight in NASA’s Apollo program to date.

The spacecraft carrying astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise to their intended lunar landing had traveled just over 200,000 miles from Earth and was approaching the orbit of the moon.

Just before 9 p.m. on April 13, the crew completed a television program in which they circled the spacecraft and explained how they managed weightlessness. “It’s the Apollo 13 crew who wish everyone a good evening,” signed mission commander Lovell, a US Navy captain with three other missions (including Apollo 8).

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Less than 10 minutes later, after a routine maintenance task that went wrong and blew up the spacecraft’s oxygen tanks, what was supposed to be the third moon landing of the US space program turned into a desperate race to save the lives of three astronauts. Working around the clock from Mission Control at the Manned Spacecraft Center (now Johnson Space Center) in Houston, Texas, flight controllers and NASA engineers improvised a series of innovative procedures to bring Lovell, Swigert and Haise home them safely on April 17, marking a successful conclusion to one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of the American space program.


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