Since most everyone has seen Ron Howard’s excellent rendition of the failed Apollo XIII mission to the Moon, Today’s History Lesson hardly bears mentioning. But still, since the central events of that mission happened on April 13, 1970, let’s give it some due.
The Apollo XIII mission began well enough on April 11th, with Tom Hanks, Kevin Bac…I mean, with James Lovell, John Swigert, and Fred Haise lifting off. Two days later, after they had passed the halfway point between the Earth and the Moon, disaster struck. NASA ordered the crew to stir the tanks, which contained hydrogen and oxygen. Apparently, the two elements were stored in separate tanks and had to be stirred on occasion for some reason I don’t exactly know…I’m not an astronaut.
So, Kevin Bacon (also not an astronaut but paid a lot of money to portray Swigert, the actual astronaut) pushed the button and, without warning, the #2 oxygen tank exploded. The cause was eventually traced back to a whole host of very small issues, all of which conspired to create a very catastrophic effect. The explosion also damaged, and eventually drained, the #1 oxygen tank, forcing the crew to evacuate the Command Module and complete the (now-aborted) mission from the Lunar Module.
And over the next four days, a supreme effort would be waged by the engineers at NASA and the three men in space to somehow return a broken vehicle that was a quarter of a million miles from the closest repair shop and hurtling through space at about 15,000 miles an hour. And when Apollo XIII splashed down safely four days later to complete its “successful failure”, there were many more heroes than the three that exited the spacecraft.
Recommended Reading: Apollo 13 – Orginally published some years ago as “Lost Moon”, this is the story of that incredible mission as told by Jim Lovell.