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NASA

Apollo 13

After the Apollo 1 fire, NASA suffered its second failure in the Apollo program with their thirteenth space mission. Apollo 13 was launched on Apr. 11, 1970, carrying astronauts James Lovell, John Swigert, and Fred Haise on board. It continued on a journey to the Moon, where it planned to complete the third manned lunar landing.

However, just two days into the mission a loud bang was heard, caused by the explosion of a damaged oxygen tank, due to electrical design errors. The Apollo 13 crew soon learned that their power supply was dangerously low, as well as other supplies necessary for maintaining life support. Stranded in space, 200,000 miles from Earth and heading toward the Moon, the astronauts realized that their lunar landing would be impossible, and even making it back to Earth alive would be a miracle.

In a classic display of resourcefulness, NASA engineers searched for ways to utilize the supplies and equipment of the Apollo 13 lunar module, which had remained unharmed in the explosion. They cleverly figured out that its Environmental Control System could remove carbon dioxide from the cabin, and used its engine to leave the Moon's gravity and speed up the spacecraft so it would return home before its vital reserves of oxygen and water were exhausted. The astronauts also showed tremendous courage, surviving temperatures near freezing, dehydration, and severe weight loss before re-entering Earth's atmosphere four days later and safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

The Apollo 13 mission is classified as a failure, but with the successful rescue of its three astronauts avoids being considered a complete disaster.


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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA