apollo 13 lesson - scott.k12.ky.us ?· apollo 13 after the successful ... actually it was apollo...
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After the successful completion of Apollo 11, the first manned landing on the moon (commanded
by Neil Armstrong in the command module Columbia and lunar module Eagle) and Apollo 12,
NASA was ready for its next mission to the moon. Apollo 13, the third manned lunar landing and
exploration mission, had been tentatively scheduled in July 1969 for launch in March 1970, but
by the end of the year the launch date had been shifted to April.
In August 1969 crew assignments for Apollo 13 were announced: James A. Lovell commanded
the prime crew, which included Thomas K. Mattingly II as command module pilot and Fred W.
Haise as lunar module pilot. Their backups were John Young, John Swigert, and Charles Duke.
The target for the mission was the Fra Mauro Formation, a site of major interest to scientists,
specifically a spot just north of the crater Fra Mauro, some 550 kilometers (340 miles) west-
southwest of the center of the moon's near side.
Days before the mission, backup LM pilot Charlie Duke inadvertently exposed the crew to German measles. Command module pilot, Ken Mattingly, turned out to have no immunity to
measles and was replaced by backup command module pilot Jack Swigert.
The movie Apollo 13 incorrectly states that James Lovell's crew was chosen to fly Apollo 13 after the original crew commanded by Alan Shepard was removed due to an inner ear
problem that Shepard had. Actually it was Apollo 14 that Shepard's crew was removed from.
The spacecraft was launched on April 11,1970, and the mission was quite routine for the first two
Space flight missions after Apollo 12 had become so routine that many news agencies stopped covering the stories. They complained that NASA had made going to the moon
At five and a half minutes after liftoff, Swigert, Haise, and Lovell felt a little vibration. Then the center engine of the S-II stage shut down two minutes early. This caused the remaining
four engines to burn 34 seconds longer than planned, and the S-IVB third stage had to burn
nine seconds longer to put Apollo 13 in orbit.
At 30 hours and 40 minutes after launch (30:40 ground elapsed time, or g.e.t.), the crew ignited
their main engine to put the spacecraft on a hybrid trajectory, a flight path that saved fuel in
reaching the desired lunar landing point. At 46:40 the crew routinely switched on the fans in the
oxygen tanks briefly. A few seconds later the quantity indicator for tank number two went off the
high end of the scale, where it stayed. The tanks were stirred twice more during the next few
hours; and at 55:53, after a master alarm had indicated low pressure in a hydrogen tank, the
Mission Control Center (MCC) directed command module pilot Jack Swigert to switch on all
tank stirrers and heaters. Immediately thereafter the crew heard a loud "bang" and felt unusual
vibrations in the spacecraft. Mission controllers noticed that all telemetry readings from the
spacecraft dropped out for 1.8 seconds. In the CM, the caution and warning system alerted the
crew to low voltage on d.c. main bus B, one of two power distribution systems in the spacecraft.
At this point command module pilot Jack Swigert told Houston, "Hey, we've had a problem
Thirteen minutes after the explosion, Lovell happened to look out of the left-hand window, and saw the final evidence pointing toward potential catastrophe. "We are venting something
out into the- into space," he reported to Houston. Jack Lousma, the CapCom replied, "Roger,
we copy you venting." Lovell said, "It's a gas of some sort." It was oxygen gas escaping at a
high rate from the second, and last, oxygen tank.
Because of the interruption of telemetry that had just occurred, flight controllers in the MCC had
difficultly for the next few minutes determining whether they were getting true readings from the
spacecraft sensors or whether the sensors had somehow lost power. Before long, however, both
MCC and the crew realized that oxygen tank number two had lost all of its contents, oxygen tank
number one was slowly losing its contents, and the CM would soon be out of oxygen and without
electrical power. Among the first actions taken were shutting down one fuel cell and switching
off nonessential systems in the CM to minimize power consumption; shortly after, the second fuel
cell was shut down as well. When the remaining oxygen ran out, the CM would be dead; its only
other power source was three reentry batteries providing 120 ampere-hours, and these had to be
reserved for the critical reentry period.
An hour and a half after the "bang," MCC notified the crew that "we're starting to think about the
lifeboat" using the lunar module (LM) and its limited supplies to sustain the crew for the rest of
the mission. Plans for such a contingency had been studied for several years, although none had
anticipated a situation as grave as that of Apollo 13. Many of these studies were retrieved and
their results were adapted to the situation as it developed.
Shortly after the accident, mission commander James Lovell reported seeing a swarm of particles
surrounding the spacecraft, which meant trouble. Particles could easily be confused with stars,
and the sole means of determining the spacecraft's attitude was by locating certain key stars in the
onboard sextant. Navigational sightings from the LM were difficult in any case as long as it was
attached to the command module, and this would only complicate matters. Flight controllers
decided to align the lunar module's guidance system with that in the command module while the
CM still had power. That done, the last fuel cell and all systems in the command module were
shut down, and the crew moved into the lunar module. Their survival depended on this craft's
oxygen and water supplies, guidance system, and descent propulsion engine (DPS). Normally all
course corrections were made using the service propulsion system (SPS) on the service module,
but flight controllers ruled out using it, partly because it required more electrical power than was
available and partly because no one knew whether the service module had been structurally
weakened by the explosion. If it had, an SPS burn might be dangerous. The DPS would have to
serve in its place.
Soon after the explosion, the assessment of life-support systems determined that although oxygen
supplies were adequate, the system for removing carbon dioxide (CO2) in the lunar module was
not. The system used canisters filled with lithium hydroxide to absorb CO2 as did the system in
the command module. Unfortunately the canisters were not interchangeable between the two
systems, so the astronauts were faced with plenty of capacity for removing CO2 but no way of
using it. A team in Houston immediately set about improvising a way to use the CM canisters,
using materials available in the spacecraft.
The trip was marked by discomfort beyond the lack of food and water. Sleep was almost impossible because of the cold. When the electrical systems were turned off, the spacecraft
lost an important source of heat. The temperature dropped to 38 F and condensation formed
on all the walls.
During all of these deliberations the atmosphere in the lunar module was gradually accumulating
carbon dioxide as the absorbers in the environmental control system became saturated. Members
of MSC's Crew Systems Division devised a makeshift air purifier by taping a plastic bag around
one end of a CM lithium hydroxide cartridge and attaching a hose from the portable life-support
system, allowing air from the cabin to be circulated through it. After verifying that this jury rig
would function, they prepared detailed instructions for building it from materials available in the
spacecraft and read them up to the crew. For the rest of the mission the improvised system kept
the CO2 content of the atmosphere well below hazardous levels.
The decision to recover in the Pacific fixed the time line for the remainder of the mission and
imposed some rigid constraints on preparations for reentry. The final course correction had to be
made with the LM engine; command module systems had to be turned on and the guidance
system aligned; the service module had to be discarded; and when all preparations had been
made, the lunar module would be cut loose. In all these preparations the power available from the
CM's reentry batteries was a limiting factor. From the PC + 2 burn until about 35 hours before
reentry the sequence of activation of CM systems was worked out, checked in the simulators, and
modified. Fifteen hours before beginning reentry the revised sequence of activities was read to
the crew, to give them time to review and practice it.
A most remarkable achievement of Mission Control was quickly developing procedures for powering up the CM after its long cold sleep. Flight controllers wrote the documents for this
innovation in three days, instead of the usual three months. The Command Module was cold
and clammy at the start of power up. The walls, ceiling, floor, wire harnesses, and panels
were all covered with droplets of water. It was suspected conditions were the same behind the
panels. The chances of short circuits caused apprehension, but thanks to the safeguards built
into the c