Apollo 13: 45th anniversary

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We often speak of scientific 'miracles' - forgetting that these are not miraculous happenings at all, but rather the product of hard work, long hours and disciplined intelligence.

The men and Women of the Apollo XIII mission operations team performed such a miracle, transforming potential tragedy into one of the most dramatic rescues of all time. Years of intense preparation made this rescue possible. The skill coordination and performance under pressure of the mission operations team made it happen. Three brave astronauts are alive and on Earth because of their dedication and because at the critical moments the people of that team were wise enough and self-possessed enough to make the right decisions. Their extraordinary feat is a tribute to man's ingenuity, to his resourcefulness and to his courage.

-- President Richard Nixon, presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the Apollo 13 Mission Operations Team, April 18, 1970.
Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He orders them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. God, in His ordinary providence, makes use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at His pleasure.

Today is the 45th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 13, the moon mission waylaid by an explosion that miraculously made it safely back to Earth through a series of life-threatening conditions.

Tonight, astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise and flight directors Glynn Lunney, Gene Kranz, and Gerry Griffin will mark the event at a $1,000 a plate gala at the Kennedy Space Center, benefiting the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

Five years ago, Universe Today published a series of articles by Nancy Atkinson on "13 Things that Saved Apollo 13," a list devised by Jerry Woodfill, who was a young engineer working in the Mission Evaluation Room during Apollo 13, and who has spent decades studying the twists and turns of the mission by combing through transcripts, reports, and other documents and interviewing the astronauts and his fellow engineers. If you've read Jim Lovell's book Lost Moon or seen Ron Howard's movie Apollo 13

The list includes coincidences (the point in the mission when the explosion occurred, astronaut Charlie Duke's measles), inexplicable malfunctions (the hatch between the command module and lunar module that wouldn't close, the unexplained shutdown of the Saturn V center engine before its pogo-ing vibrations would have jackhammered the rocket to pieces), examples of ingenuity and preparedness (the technique to navigate by Earth's terminator, the use of duct tape to improvise a filter to scrub CO2 out of the spacecraft's air), decisions made long before (choosing Lunar Orbit Rendezvous), and even the scenario presented by a Hollywood movie of the time. Choices that at the time seemed marginally better than plausible alternatives appear in hindsight as the only options that would have saved the crew.

Universe Today is now running a second series drawn from Woodfill's research, "13 MORE Things That Saved Apollo 13," leading off with the fact that two teams of flight controllers and two experienced flight directors -- Gene Kranz and Glynn Lunney -- were on duty at the time of the disaster.

MORE:

The Apollo 13 article is an example of Wikipedia at its best, with links to many source documents, video, and other resources.

You can see Apollo 13's Command Module Odyssey on display at the Cosmophere in Hutchinson, Kansas, part of an astonishing collection of artifacts from the American and Soviet space programs, and just a four-hour drive from Tulsa.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 11, 2015 2:57 PM.

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