On April 11, 1970, three men were scheduled to fly to and land on the moon. The mission labeled Apollo 13. Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa, and Edgar Mitchell made-up the original crew members of Apollo 13, but because of an inner-ear surgery, Alan Shepard felt unprepared to fly Apollo13. Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 14, was then approached and asked if he would mind switching flights with Shepard. Jim did not think there would be a great difference between the two flights and wanted to get back to the moon. He agreed and his crew began training. (Lovell and Kluger, 60-61) Jim’s crew included Fred Haise, Ken Mattingly, and himself.
They gladly accepted their mission. Little did these men know, however, their flight was going to be riddled with problems and be forever remembered for them. The three men should have known that their mission was fated for mishaps when at the last minute Ken Mattingly was removed from the crew because of an accidental exposure to German measles. He was replaced by the “playboy” Jack Swigert. Jack, who was not taken very seriously by the public, became a huge asset to the crew of Apollo 13.
The chosen men of Apollo 13 were to become the second group of men launched towards the moon. Their mission was clear: Get to the moon. Apollo 13 planned to land in the Fra Mauro Formation, an extensive geologic unit covering large portions of the moon. The men were to exit the spacecraft and perform numerous experiments for NASA. These experiments would give information on the composition of the moon’s surface and its formation. Age dating would have been done when the samples returned to earth. This shows the age of the formations and provides an idea of where the moon falls on the geologic time scale. (Godwin, 63) Ken Mattingly, Jim Lovell, and Fred Haise were ready for their mission. This is what they had trained their whole lives for.
Devastatingly, Ken Mattingly was not allowed to fly with the crew of Apollo 13 to the moon. Seventy-two hours before the flight launched into space, NASA informed Ken that he had been exposed to the German measles and would not be able to continue with the mission. (JSC) The entire crew including the back-up crew was exposed to the disease. Back-up LEM pilot, Charlie Duke, became sick after being exposed to the disease because of his son. Even though the entire crew, including the back-up crew had been exposed, Ken Mattingly had not been immunized and would endanger the flight if he were to become sick while in space. (Lovell and Kluger, 88) NASA has strict rules about such things and knew that a sick crew member could not be trusted completely as an operator of a spacecraft. Ken’s crew rallied behind him and fought NASA so that Ken could join them on this mission.
Unfortunately, NASA disregarded the crew’s arguments. Jim Lovell became Mattingly’s number one supporter, however. He wanted his friend with him and did not understand why Ken could not go into space. He asked the flight surgeon, “How long is the incubation period for this thing?” The surgeon replied, “About ten days to two weeks?” After more discussion about the fact that during lift-off Ken would be fine and when they reached the moon Ken would be healthy, Lovell asked, “Then what’s the problem? If he starts running a fever when Fred and I are down on the surface (of the moon), he can have that whole time to get over it. If he’s not better by then, he can just sweat if out on the flight home. I can’t think of a better place to have the measles than in a nice cozy spaceship.” (Lovell and Kluger, 89) When Lovell finished ranting, the surgeon still bumped Mattingly from the flight. Jack Swigert replaced Ken for the April 11th launch.
Jack Swigert took the place of Ken Mattingly as Command Module pilot. Jack had a reputation as a rambunctious bachelor and had an energetic social life. The public knew of his behavior and during the flight, instead of watching late-breaking news, they watched talk shows that belittled him for such behavior. On April 13th, two days after the launch, ABC was showing The Dick Cavett Show. Dick had one comment about the space flight. He said, “And speaking of girl watching, did you know our first bachelor astronaut is on his way to the moon? It’s Swigert, right? He’s the kind of guy who they say has a girl in every port. Well, that may be, but I think he’s kinda foolishly optimistic taking nylons and Hershey bars to the moon” (Lovell and Kluger, 4). America knew him as “the bachelor.” Swigert, however, was quiet, unassuming, and hard-working. The only astronaut unmarried in NASA’s history, Swigert knew this was bad for his image in the 1960’s, but NASA kept him on because he was such a good pilot.
Swigert and NASA knew that he was a good pilot, but his lifestyle not his qualifications had been publicized for the public to judge him by. Swigert served in the Air Force after graduating from the University of Colorado. During this time he was a fighter pilot in both Japan and Korea. After earning a Masters of Science from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1965, Swigert was selected by NASA in 1966 along with Ken Mattingly, Fred Haise, and nineteen other astronauts. (Godwin) The crew had trained for a good year before the flight was to be launched. During this year, the crew became so close that Lovell and Haise could interpret the nuances and inflections in Mattingly’s voice.
This would become valuable when Mattingly would only be shouting commands at the two men while they tried to steer their lander. (Lovell and Kluger, 89-90) So it wasn’t that the crew of Apollo 13 did not believe in Swigert’s abilities, but they had trained with Ken Mattingly for so many months that they were afraid they would not be as successful. To their surprise, Swigert fit into the crew nicely. Forty-eight hours before they were to launch, NASA certified Jack to fly. (Lovell and Kluger, 89-90) With Mattingly left behind in Mission Control, Apollo 13 launched on April 11, 1970 with full faith it would make it to the moon.
NASA launched Apollo 13 from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 2:13 p.m. (Godwin, 81) The launch went well. The only problems the crew encountered were with fuel cells and the fact that Swigert had not filed his tax returns yet. The Capcom, Joe Kerwin, asked the guys if they had completed their income tax forms. Swigert replied, “How do I apply for an extension?” Joe laughed. “Joe, it ain’t too funny. Things happened kinda fast down there and I do need an extension. I may be spending time in another quarantine when we get back, besides the medical one they’re planning for us.” After cracking up the entire mission control, Joe came back on saying, “We’ll see what we can do, Jack” (Lovell and Kluger, 92). The crew continued with regular business. Little did they know they would be dealing with much bigger problems than Jack’s taxes, but they would also be glad that they had him along.
“Houston, we have a problem” (History Channel). Most people know this saying well. They’ve said it when things go wrong in their own lives, but for the three men of Apollo 13 and the world it was the scariest phrase they had ever uttered or heard. Quickly after the ship was launched, a NASA technician discovered higher pressure on a helium tank than there was supposed to be. Nothing was done. After liftoff, Apollo 13’s second engine cut off two minutes early. To make up for this, the astronauts “burned the other four engines an additional 34.” (Space Exploration History) This resulted in a 1.2 feet per second speed gain. On April 13, 1970 after a television broadcast, the men were sent this message from mission control, “We’d like you to err, stir up you cryo tanks. In addition err, have a shaft and trunnion, for a look at the comet Bennett if you need it.” Jack Swigert did as he was told. (Space Exploration History) This led to his now infamous phrase, “Houston, we have a problem” (History Channel).
Jim Lovell described the explosion like this, ” Fred was still in the lunar module. Jack was back in the command module, in the left-hand seat, and I was half way in between, in the lower equipment bay, wrestling with TV wires and a camera, watching Fred come on down, when all three of us heard a rather large bang – just one bang.” (Compton) All the men thought that the explosion was a joke being played by Fred Haise, but they quickly realized something was seriously wrong. Jim continues to describe his feelings by saying, “I guess it’s the kind of interesting to know what the feelings of the crew are when something like this happens.
When you first hear this explosion or bang…you don’t know what it is. We’ve heard similar sounds in the spacecraft before that were for nothing…my concern was increasing all the time. It went from “I wonder what this is going to do to the landing” to “I wonder if we can get back home.” (Compton) The “bang” came from oxygen tank #2. The tank supplied oxygen used in the fuel cells, the primary energy source for Apollo 13. The astronauts were eighty-seven hours from home with only ten hours of back-up battery power. The battery power had to be saved for reentry into earth’s atmosphere. (Compton) With the help of mission control on the ground, the crew of Apollo 13 devised a plan to get back to earth safely.
In 1968, NASA commissioned twenty-one panels to research aspects of the Apollo spacecrafts. One of these panels included Jim Lovell and Jack Swigert. Their particular panel was to investigate in-flight fire emergency procedures. (Lovell and Kluger, 31) Jack had even written the procedures for malfunctions in case of such for the Command Module. (CD-ROM) So he and Lovell knew somewhat they way to get them back home safely. They planned to use the Lunar Module to survive. The LM was designed to separate from the Command and Space Module, land two astronauts on the moon, sustain them while they were on the moon, and carry them back to the ship in orbit. (Compton) The Command Module had to be shut down to save the batteries for reentry.
Aquarius, the Lunar Module equipped for two men for two days now would have to contain three men for four days. Another problem that arose was the oxygen supply and the falling temperature. If the men continued to breathe normally, they would start breathing in their own carbon dioxide. This would kill them after a period of time. The men had to devise a plan to rid the ship of CO2. The next obstacle they had to tackle was the temperature. It ended up dropping to thirty-eight degrees in the Command Module. As all this was happening, the crew had to maneuver Apollo 13 around the moon, not to the moon, and towards earth.
Once the crew was headed toward earth, the men in mission control were in complete control of the crew’s fate. Not only did NASA bring in the normal members of mission control to get the men back safely, but the Apollo 14 crew was there and so was Fred and Jim’s good pal Ken Mattingly. Together they all came up with a way to make an air filter that the crew could use to take away the carbon dioxide. While mission control and the others were hoping to get the men home, Marilyn Lovell and the other wives met at the Lovell home to pray for the crew. Even Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin watched coverage of the tragedy with Marilyn Lovell in her home. (Lovell and Kluger) All of the watchers on were glad when the men finally arrived home safely.
The three men trapped in Apollo 13 were on their way home, but first they had to help Fred survive and say goodbye to a friend. Two days before the crew was to say goodbye to Aquarius and the service module, Fred Haise came down with a serious fever. His fever was due to a kidney infection he had acquired from the lack of liquid intake the crew had been facing. During the time that Fred was battling his fever, the astronauts separated from the Service Module and the Lunar Module, powered up the Command Module, which they would use to return home, and Mission Control said its goodbyes with the famous quote, “Farewell, Aquarius, and we thank you.” Luckily, the power did return when the crew powered up the Command Module. (Space Exploration History) This had been a worry for the men and everyone at home.
Two hours before splash down, Fred Haise reached a peak in his sickness. Jim glanced over at him and he had his eyes closed, hugging himself trying to stop from shivering. At this point Lovell wrapped Haise in a huge bear hug to warm him up. The shivering subsided and they all looked forward to the eighty degree weather in the South Pacific. (Lovell and Kluger) After being held captive in space for eighty-six hours and fifty-seven minutes with no idea if the would ever return home, the crew of Apollo 13 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. They landed only three miles from the recovery ship, Iwo Jima. (Compton) The landing is the most accurate landing in the history of manned space flight.
Apollo 13 wasn’t the last flight to the moon, there were four others, but none of the men who had flown with 13 ever went back into space. Ken Mattingly was the closest astronaut to Apollo 13 to ever fly. He was part of the Apollo 16 mission. The men of Apollo 13 all retired from NASA shortly after their fated mission. Jim left in 1973 and went on to work in telecommunications. Fred’s Apollo 19 mission was cancelled and he left the agency in the late 70’s. Jack, the surprise hero of the mission, left the agency immediately after splashdown. He returned to Colorado and entered politics. (Lovell and Kluger, 366-367) In November 1982, he was elected to the U.S House of Representatives. Unfortunately, Jack Swigert died of bone cancer days before he was to be sworn in. For three men who were not supposed to fly to the moon together, the crew of Apollo 13 became closer than any other flight crew before and showed a courage never shown by astronauts. They never copped out. When thoughts of “poison pills” and suicide starting entering their minds, they kept their efforts focused on getting the spacecraft back home. (Lovell and Kluger, 1)
They had a pride to up hold. They had the pride of NASA and the United States. All of the men had been soldiers. Jack Swigert fought in Japan. He knew what it was all about. The mission clearly was to get to the moon, but after the explosion of the oxygen tank the mission became life. It became teamwork. When Fred Haise became ill, the other two crew members made sure they took care of him and brought him home. (Lovell and Kluger) And in return he made sure he got them at the correct angle so that they would not catch on fire or bounce off the earth when reentering the atmosphere. Everyone pulled together in space and on the ground to get these heroes home. They came together like a family in a time of need. For this, they will always be remembered and looked at as heroes of the United States Space Program. For a mission that was forced to be labeled a failure, Apollo 13 was a great success for humanity and NASA.
Courtney from Study Moose
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