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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Failure is not an option!

Apollo 13 Launched History Tidbit
On this day April 11, 1970, the Apollo 13 Saturn V rocket was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. I did a post a few days ago mentioning that Hollywood made a film about this very mission that was released in 1995 called Apollo 13. It was directed by Ron Howard and starred Tom Hanks, Ed Harris, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, and Gary Sinise. Ed Harris played the part of Gene Krantz the Head of Mission Control and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his brilliant performance in the movie.

The mission started off fine except one for early in the mission the center inboard engine shut down two minutes early during the second-stage boost. The outboard engines burned longer to compensate and the mission was still on tract and continued into a successful orbit.

The third stage fired sending the craft on its way to the moon where it was scheduled to make a lunar landing. After separating the third stage the Command Service module Odyssey had to be docked with the Lunar module Aquarius to be ready for when they reached the moon. Two days later into the flight while doing routine housekeeping procedures aboard the craft including stirring the liquid oxygen tanks, when they hit the switch one of the two liquid oxygen tanks explodes and they found out shortly afterward that the other was leaking. The lunar landing portion of the mission was cancelled and the primary mission was now how to get the three astronauts safely home to earth.

Many times in highly controlled situations when a major malfunction occurs it often affects many other aspects of the mission, even to the point of posing complex problems. One example is how do you get a square peg into a round hole? Every problem had to be solved using only items that would be available aboard the damaged spacecraft. Their problems mounted as the clock was running and in the words of Gene Krantz, who was portrayed by Ed Harris in the Ron Howard film, “Failure is not an option.”

Spoiler Alert – but to only those who haven’t seen the movie, or are not old enough to remember it actually happening, the Aquarius splashed down in the south Indian Ocean on April 17th, 1970 and the three astronauts, Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise returned safely to Earth. Forty five minutes later they were picked up by the Air Craft Carrier USS Iwa Jima and received a welcome home as heroes.

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