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Apollo 13 Moon Mission

Problems Before Liftoff

Apollo 13 was scheduled for lift off in March, 1970, but more planning time was added and the liftoff was rescheduled for April 11, 1970. Everything went well and the confidence test was run on January 29th and again on February 26th without incident. However on March 25th something happened that would give way to a trend that would plague this flight and almost cost the lives of the three astronauts manning Apollo 13. With the previous Apollo flights having gone smoothly, trouble was not expected on this flight.

A Strange Accident

The crew started the chill down system on Apollo 13, which required a 760-liter per minute flow to replenish the pumps. In turn the crew emptied 39,000 liters of LOX into a drainage ditch into a culvert just outside the perimeter of the launch area. Due to weather conditions, this did not dissipate as expected, but instead it turned into a heavy fog. After the work was finished, three of the crew got into their cars to leave the area, but when the first one turned the ignition key to start the car, it burst into flames. Soon all three cars were burning and although the three men escaped without injury, the cars were burnt completely.

Was This a Sign of Things to Come?

The original crew of Apollo 13 was: Commander James Lovell, Command Module Pilot Thomas K. Mattingly, and Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise. This changed when Mattingly was exposed to German measles. Because Mattingly had never had the measles, he faced the risk of developing the disease during the middle of the flight. Delaying Apollo13 was not an option, but replacing Mattingly was. There was also a problem when loading the cryogenics into the service module, which at the time was not thought of as a problem, but would later prove to be the downfall of Apollo 13. John Swigert replaced Mattingly and on April 11, 1970 at 2:13 p.m. Apollo 13 left Earth with the three astronauts.

"Houston, We've Had a Problem"

The flight of Apollo 13 went as expected and the crew even did an interview from space with the media. However, 56 hours into the flight things began to change when the crew heard a big bang and the words that drifted back to control were "Okay Houston we've had a problem here". Apollo 13 was in trouble because the oxygen vent was not working. Although it was not immediately realized, this would cause the astronauts to abandon the mission and seek refuge in the lunar module. It was pieced together later that the fans on Oxygen 2 caused an electrical short circuit and the insulation around the fan motor caught fire, which ruptured the oxygen tank. The escaping oxygen blew an access panel off, which in turn struck the high gain antenna and also damaged tank one. The Apollo 13 was in trouble.

The World Watches

From the first landing of a man on the moon to the launch of Apollo 13, the world had become somewhat complacent with space flight. This changed when the broadcast came that Apollo 13 was in trouble. The world watched and prayed during the tense hours that were to follow. Meanwhile in Apollo 13 the crew worked feverishly to try to repair the cause of the problem. The crew moved from the main module into the cramped space of the lunar module as they worked to figure out a way to return to Earth. The biggest problem was venting excess carbon dioxide from the module, which was only designed to support 2 people. To remedy the problem, they improvised the CO2 scrubbers from the Command Module to work in the Lunar Module. Apollo 13 returned to earth on April 17th, 1970 with all aboard alive and well. It had been a very near disastrous flight. With the expertise of the crew, they had the ability to repair the damages and survived to tell the tale.