April 13, 2011

Houston, we've had a problem here...”
Apollo 13, on the 13th of April, 1970

Oxygen Tank No. 2 exploded.
Oxygen Tank No. 1 also failed.
Three astronauts—close to their intended mission of landing on the moon, but about 200,000 miles away from Earth—were suddenly left with a spaceship that had lost its normal supply of electricity, light, heat, and water.

Astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise reported the bad news to Mission Control, in Houston, Texas, just after they had wished everyone a nice evening and said goodnight.

The Lunar Module
The astronauts had to use the resources of the Lunar Module as a “lifeboat”... 
This is Swigert helping to jury-rig equipment to keep the astronauts alive.
Mission Control celebrates
a safe splashdown.
...and they had to jury-rig the carbon dioxide removal system, following directions that engineers radioed from Mission Control. Finally, after six long days in cold, dim, hardship conditions, with Haise suffering from a urinary tract infection due to lack of water, the astronauts reached Earth, safely re-entered the atmosphere, and splashed down.

Naturally, the Apollo 13 astronauts didn't get to land and walk on the moon, as they'd planned. As a matter of fact, none of the three were ever able to go back to the moon. Jim Lovell had earlier flown with Apollo 8 to the moon and back to Earth (no problems on that flight--but it was never meant to land) -- so he is the only person ever to have flown to the moon twice and never landed.

The best way to celebrate NASA's most dramatic “successful failure,” IMO, is to watch the movie Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell.

You may want to look at the concepts and questions brought up by the movie, here

If you can't get the movie, you could read About-dot-com's interesting account of the mission here

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