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FOR AGES 3 YEARS TO 18 YEARS
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In the 20th-century space race, the Soviet Union had already taken an early lead by being the first nation to send a satellite to orbit and by sending the first person into space.
On May 25, 1961, US president, John F Kennedy, gave a special address to Congress, insisting upon their commitment to 'landing a man on the moon and returning him safely back to Earth' by the end of the decade. Kennedy was later assassinated, but his goal of a lunar landing lived on.
With the successful lunar landing of Apollo 11, NASA launched several missions to the Moon under the Apollo program. Apollo 13 was, in fact, the third mission to the Moon following the success of Apollo 11 and Apollo 12. The landing site for Apollo 13 was the Fra Munro region. This region is named after an Italian cartographer who created the most accurate world map of the 15th century. The crew was comprised of Commander Jim Lovell (James A Lovell Jr), John L Swigert Jr (command module pilot), and Fred W Haise Jr (lunar module pilot).
Due to issues with an oxygen tank and subsequent problems with the functioning of the fuel cell, the mission had to be aborted midway into a rescue operation for the stranded astronauts of Apollo 13. The oxygen tank which had been installed in Apollo 13 exploded after around 56 hours into the flight. This oxygen tank was previously installed in the Apollo 10 spacecraft as well and had been damaged under maintenance.
Let us get one more fact straight, the iconic words' Houston, we have a problem' from the movie 'Apollo 13' were not spoken by Captain Jim Lovell. As a matter of fact, these words were spoken by the Command Module Pilot, Jack Swigert, to tell mission control in Houston about the issues they were facing with the explosion of the oxygen tank.
After reading about the Apollo 13 mission and its crew, be sure to read our Apollo 11 facts and learn about the Andromeda Galaxy from Earth.
After the first few Gemini mission programs sent American space crafts to space, NASA launched the next generation of American space flights, that is, the Apollo missions, with the mission objective of a lunar landing.
In July and November of 1969, both the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 missions successfully accomplished the goal of a moon landing. However, it was on the third mission of the Apollo program that things took a rather scary turn and changed the history of space travel forever.
On April 11, 1970, Apollo 13, the third mission of the Apollo program, was launched with the objective of a successful moon landing in the Fra Munro region from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, by the most powerful Saturn V rocket. Minutes after its launch, it reached space and entered into orbit around the Earth. The craft was in Earth's orbit for about three hours when the third-stage engine was re-ignited. The process of removing the lunar module named Aquarius was completed. This provided the final boost towards the Moon at a speed of 24,854 mph (40,000 kph). Later, there was also an advanced maneuver that took place to facilitate the landing of the space flight on the lunar surface. Everything until then was so on point that the flight controllers and ground controllers canceled the planned correction of the flight course of the spacecraft.
On April 13, two days after the launch, one of the crew members started the process of pressurizing the Aquarius, which was the lunar module. Suddenly, another crew member heard a loud explosion while checking the systems in the command module.
All the astronauts entered the command module Odyssey to analyze the events. After checking things over, they realized that the primary electrical system onboard was malfunctioning. This information was radioed to Johnson's Base facility in Houston.
The crew also saw other signs that a major fault had occurred as the oxygen pressure in one of the oxygen tanks in the service module plummeted to zero in no time. These were the cryogenic oxygen tanks which, with similar hydrogen tanks, provided fuel for the three fuel cells in the Apollo 13 spacecraft. The functioning of the fuel cells was imperative to providing electrical power, water, and oxygen for the astronauts.
Also, a thin cloud of white gas was visibly leaking out of the system and into the space. It was then that the astronauts knew that they wouldn't be able to land on the Moon. The mission changed from being a mission to land on the Moon's surface to a mission of survival.
Back home on Earth, anxieties all around the world were running high for the well-being of the Apollo 13 support crew. Many world leaders, including in the Soviet Union, voiced their concerns and extended their support.
One of the major challenges that the crew faced was excessive levels of carbon dioxide in the lunar module. This problem was handled by improvising a setup to use a combination of the cartridges from the lunar module and the command module.
Other mission control teams also helped the now aborted lunar landing mission with daily activities. The astronauts were doing everything they could to stay alive. First, they shut down the command module to preserve its energy to be used later during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. Then, they shifted into the LEM for the remainder of the mission.
The ground control team fed every contingency plan through the computers. The spacecraft was around 20 hours away from the Moon when they transferred to the lunar module Aquarius and started their journey back home. Onboard, the crew faced great hardships, with the command module shut down, reduced consumption of potable water, freezing temperatures due to cutting down on electrical consumption, and inedible food.
The descent stage propulsion system of the lunar module that tagged along with the command module was ignited, which cut down the return journey by 10 hours. Finally, on April 17, the spacecraft entered the Earth's atmosphere. The crew had by now moved from the lunar module to the command module and powered up the life support system that had been shut down to conserve energy. The lunar module was discarded into space.
The spacecraft containing only the command module then headed to the Earth's surface towards the Pacific Ocean area and reached it with a splashdown in the South Pacific Ocean. Warships from France, Britain, as well as four Soviet ships also reached the rescue area in the Pacific Ocean.
All three members on the space flight survived. Through the efforts of the crew and ground control team, the spacecraft circled around the Moon and returned safely back to the Earth after the explosion in its oxygen tank. As it was a rough journey back home, all the members on the space flight were fatigued and had lost weight. Jack Haise, in particular, had developed a kidney infection. All three of the astronauts on board survived.
After the Apollo 13 mishap, NASA learned many valuable lessons, and numerous design changes were put in place for subsequent missions. Even though all the crew members of Apollo 13 survived the mission, there have been many other spaceflight-related tragedies. In the last 50 years alone, about 30 astronauts have died while attempting dangerous space missions. This number is surprisingly low given the number of people who have traveled to space up until now. Also, despite all the dangers that come with space travel, the interest and curiosity in space exploration are only increasing.
The three astronauts on the Apollo 13 mission included James Lovell, the commander of the mission; Jack Swigert, the command module pilot and Fred Haise, the lunar module pilot.
Commander James Lovell was the most experienced member of the crew of the Apollo 13 mission. It was his fourth space mission after two Gemini mission programs and an Apollo 8 mission program.
Jack Swigert was a US air force pilot, and it was his first flight to space. Fred Haise was a fighter pilot, and this was also his first flight.
After this historical mission, all three astronauts went on to pursue different professional callings and lived a full life.
Haise, from being a lunar module pilot on Apollo 13 mission, went on to be assigned by NASA to command other missions.
Jack Swigert went from being the command pilot of the Apollo 13 mission to pursuing a career in politics. James Lovell, along with journalist Jeffrey Kluger, went on to co-write a book based on Lovell's space career with its primary focus on the Apollo 13 space mission. The book 'Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13' on the infamous moon landing mission inspired the Tom Hanks' Apollo 13' movie.
Even though this crew never made it to the lunar surface, the entire Apollo 13 mission lasted for five days, 22 hours, and 54 minutes in total. Almost 56 hours after the launch of the spaceflight, when one oxygen tank in the spacecraft exploded, they were left with the only option of trying to find a way to survive the mission and safely return home. They had to abandon all thoughts of a lunar landing. By enduring such hardships and surviving the impossible, they left a mark in the history of space travel.
Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our Apollo 13 facts, then why not take a look at our jungle habitat facts or St Louis Arch facts?
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