By Donna Vanzetti

Apollo 13 was planned to be NASA’s third moon-landing mission, but the astronauts never made it to the lunar surface.  Here are some fun facts you may not have known about the Apollo 13 Mission.

1. Mission Success

The mission was classed as a “successful failure” because the crew was returned safely to Earth.

2. Lunar Module

The Lunar Module (LM) was named Aquarius and is the part of the spacecraft that was supposed to descend to the surface of the Moon. Instead, Aquarius helped get three astronauts safely back to Earth. Phew!

3. Command/Service Module

Named the Odyssey, this referred to the 2001 movie ‘A space Odyssey’. The word odyssey means ‘a long voyage with many changes of fortune’, which ended up being a totally accurate description of the mission.

4. Crew

The brave men who always kept calm throughout the harrowing flight were, James A. Lovell (Commander), Jack L. Swigert (Command Module Pilot), and Fred W. Haise (Lunar Module Pilot)

Apollo 13 Crew
Fred Haise, Jack Swigert & James Lovell. Image: NASA

5. Launch

Lift-off of one of the most remembered space missions was on 11th April 1970, at 1:13 pm EST from Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

6. Mission Objective

The crew were sent to complete a six-day flight and attempt a third lunar landing. However, the mission was aborted after a serious rupture of the service module oxygen tank.

7. Lunar Landing Site

This was to be the Fra Mauro region of the Moon. It’s named after a 15th-century Italian monk and cartographer known for creating the most accurate world map of his day. Because the module did not land, this site was reassigned to Apollo 14.

8. Moment of Disaster

At 55 hours, 54 minutes into the flight, faulty wiring in oxygen tank No. 2 blew up, causing the No. 1 tank to fail as well. The command module’s normal supply of electricity, light and water was lost, at about 322,000kms from Earth. Unsurprisingly, the moon landing was aborted.

9. Famous Quote

“Houston, we have a problem,” from the Apollo 13 movie are not the actual words used to advise mission control of the trouble. Astronauts Swigert and Lowell actually said, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here,” according to NASA transcripts.

10. Mid-Flight Ingenuity

One hour after the explosion, the crew were instructed to move into the LM. The LM was only designed to support two people for 45 hours.  For the crew to make it back to Earth, the LM had to support the three men for at least 90 hours.

NASA engineers and statisticians kicked into gear. Removal of carbon dioxide was their first challenge. Mission control built an improvised adapter out of materials known to be onboard, and the crew successfully copied their model. Navigation was another major hurdle and they had to work out by hand, the changes in propulsion and direction needed to take the spacecraft home.

Apollo 13 Mission Control Room
Deke Slayton demonstrating the adaptor they will use to remove excess carbon dioxide from the Apollo 13 Lunar Module cabin. Image: NASA

11. Return to Earth

Amazingly, the spacecraft re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on 17th April 1970. Mission Control hoped heat shields were not damaged, however Apollo 13’s parachutes were finally spotted and all three astronauts splashed down safely into the Pacific Ocean.

Apollo 13 Landing
Swigert and Lovell waiting to be picked up by a helicopter after landing in the Pacific Ocean. Image: NASA

12. Mission Duration

It was a hold-your-breath 5 days, 22 hours, 54 minutes, 0 seconds. A mission that the crew and the world will never forget.

13. The Farthest Distance from Earth Reached by Humans

On 15th April 1970, Apollo 13 was 254 km from the lunar surface on the far side of the moon—and 400,171 km above the Earth’s surface. This is in fact a Guinness World Record for the farthest distance from Earth reached by humans and still holds to this day.

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We look forward to welcoming you to our friendly community of Stargazers & Astronomy Lovers where we thrive on making learning about the galaxy easy & fun!

Carol Redford - Founder Stargazers Club WA