The phrase “Houston has a problem”, which was uttered by Apollo 13 in near-disaster — not only from a film, but also from a space mission, is familiar to everyone. How did these real-life events unfold? This is a quick account of what happened to Apollo 13. We also explain how the crew made it home.

Apollo 13 crew & pre-mission setbacks

Apollo 13 was the 7th human flight to the Moon. Unfortunately, this number has been affecting the 13th mission since before launch. Because of the original crew’s , the 14th mission team had to replace them. NASA appointed James Lovell to be the mission commander. John Swigert, Fred Haise, and Fred Haise were chosen as Apollo 13 command module and moon module pilots.

John Swigert was actually a reserve crew member. Its original command module pilot Thomas Kenneth Ken>> Mattingly contracted measles two day before the mission launched. However, these were minor setbacks when compared to the Apollo 13 disaster that would shake the entire world.

Apollo 13 Mission Launch & Causes

Apollo 13 Mission crew took off Kennedy Space Center April 11, 1970 at 06:00 UTC. Five minutes and a half into the flight, the second engine on the second stage failed prematurely. It happened two minutes earlier than the scheduled time. But Saturn V heavy rocket was already accelerating by this point, so Apollo crew resorted to starting side engines.

The Apollo 13 mission, which was aiming to collect lunar soil samples from the moon, seemed to be going smoothly for some time. This changed when its crew repaired the explosions onboard. After its sensor level exceeded the limit, Oxygen Tank 2 ignited. This occurred at the 56th hour on the Apollo 13 flight. The Apollo command module was without power for three hours after the explosion destroyed its fuel cell batteries. But this wasn’t the biggest problem. By that time, the astronaut crew faced a much bigger problem: declining oxygen levels and the need for them to return home to Earth. Can the Apollo 13 crew still survive? Although they survived, three astronauts, as well as NASA’s mission control centre, were in for a stressful few hours.

It was hard to pinpoint the cause of the explosion at time. It initially appeared that the Apollo crew had delayed the tank-destratification procedure (which was required to mix oxygen with hydrogen) by about nine hours in order to broadcast with Earth. This was not the case as the Apollo 13 crew flew alongside the tank onboard from Apollo 10. Orbital Today reports that it was accidentally dropped right before the 10th moon mission launch. It has since been returned for maintenance. NASA’s further testing required NASA to remove any remaining oxygen from the tank. This caused severe damage to its Teflon insulation. Swigert had already started Apollo tank destratification. A spark had ignited an insulation layer that had been damaged, which eventually led to the explosion.

Apollo 13 Rescue Mission Efforts & Alternative Scenarios

NASA Emergency Rescue Headquarters performed a remarkable analytics effort to help the crew survive. Five scenarios were created to help Apollo 13 crew return home. They eventually settled on the most safe one. It had one drawback: it increased the mission’s duration by nine hours. This was in extreme cold and slowly decreasing oxygen conditions, which presented its own risks. What was the time it took Apollo 13 to return home? From launch to splashdown at the Pacific, the total mission time was 142.54:41. All major decisions had had to be made within six hour of the tank explosion. Ground and space crews also had to wait another six days before they could see the intended outcome. What was the best way for mission crew to get back?

First, the Apollo crew needed to move from Aquarius to Odyssey. Aquarius had a problem because the Apollo 13 capsule was not built to filter the air for three crewmembers for so long. Ground engineers created an adapter that astronauts could use to quickly attach to the capsule.

Another challenge was constant cold, lack of water, and an explosion in Aquarius’ Aquarius module that destroyed one of its batteries. The mission crew performed all maneuvers required to dock Odyssey and load it to the required weight (since return calculations also included 100 pounds lunar soil samples, which were never collected), before finally undocking service modules.

After making a series corrections to their trajectory and activating a landing navigator system, the Apollo crew came down in the Pacific Ocean around 18:07:41 Houston time. The Apollo 13 crew were picked up by a rescue vessel and returned to NASA. All mission personnel on Earth and in space were awarded the Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civil award in the United States.

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