The recovery of the Apollo 13 crew, near Samoa in the Pacific Ocean; Photo credit: US Navy
The command module, Odyssey, was the only module capable of reentering the earth’s atmosphere. Apollo 13’s crew moved back into Odyssey, then jettisoned Aquarius. They splashed down in the Pacific Ocean 142 hours, 54 minutes, 41 seconds from the time of liftoff.
Fred Haise, Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell aboard the recovery ship USS Iwo Jima
Fred Haise remained in the astronaut rotation after Apollo 13, and was the backup mission commander for Apollo 16. Following Apollo 16, Haise transferred over to the Space Shuttle program. He retired from NASA in 1979.
Jack Swigert was selected as the command module pilot for the Apollo-Soyuz test project, the first joint U.S. – Soviet mission. Swigert left NASA in 1977, and was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in 1982. Swigert died in December of that same year.
Jim Lovell is one of three men to have flown to the moon twice, but he never walked on its surface. Lovell accumulated 715 hours in space, and watched 269 sunrises from space. Lovell, along with Haise and Swigert hold the record for the farthest distance humans have traveled from earth. He retired from the U.S. Navy and Space Program in 1973.
Apollo 13 Command Module; Photo credit: National Air & Space Museum
In the early morning hours of April 14, the Apollo 13 crew maneuvered their crippled craft into a free-return trajectory around the moon and back towards earth. Radio contact was lost with Apollo 13 that evening, as the spacecraft passed behind the moon.
Apollo 13, the mission that was supposed to be the third lunar landing, came within 164 miles of the moon’s surface at its closest. The mission set a then record distance from earth at 249,205 miles.
The above video was put together by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. It uses data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to recreate the view that Apollo 13 had as it passed over the far side of the moon.
As Apollo 13 headed for home, oxygen supplies and cooling water remain in good shape. The astronauts had reduced their water intake to 6 ounces per day. Electricity demand had been reduced by 80%.
Aquarius was not designed to carry three astronauts, and its carbon dioxide filters could not keep up with what the crew was putting into the LM. The filters from the command module did not fit Aquarius, so NASA engineers on the ground were forced to quickly design a makeshift adapter. The setup was dubbed “the mailbox”. All that mattered, was that it worked.
The launch and following day, April 12 went perfectly for the Apollo 13 crew. On the evening of the 13th, the astronauts did a routine pressurization of the lunar module Aquarius. Suddenly, a loud explosion was heard, and all three crew members scrambled into the command module Odyssey to examine the instrument panels.
Haise then contacted Houston:
Haise: Okay Houston-
Lovell: I believe we’ve had a problem here.
Mission control: This is Houston. Say again please.
Lovell: Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a main B bus undervolt.
The service module had two cryogenic oxygen tanks, and one of them had dropped to zero pressure. These two tanks, along with the cryogenic hydrogen tanks fed the spacecraft’s fuel cells, which in turn, powered the generation of electrical power, the oxygen for breathing and drinking water.
Aquarius became the crew’s lifeboat. The LM was designed for only two men, so it was a cramped living situation, and now all thoughts of a third moon landing were scrapped. As the Apollo 13 crew moved into Aquarius, they were 20 hours from the moon.
The launch of Apollo 13 from Cape Kennedy, Florida
Fifty years ago today, the crew of Apollo 13 was launched from Cape Kennedy, pushed along by the massive Saturn V. Just 2-1/2 hours from launch, the S IVB third stage reignited, providing the final push towards the moon.
Apollo 13’s trajectory was so accurate, the first planned course correction was cancelled. A return to the moon’s surface was looking good.
The crew of Apollo 13: James Lovell, commander; Jack Swigert, command module pilot; Fred Haise, lunar module pilot. Photo credit: NASA