Apollo 13 was to be the third lunar landing attempt, but the mission was aborted after rupture of
service module oxygen tank. Still, it was classified as a "successful failure" because of the
experience gained in rescuing the crew. The mission's spent upper stage successfully impacted
During the first two days, the crew ran into a couple of minor surprises, but generally Apollo 13
was looking like the smoothest flight of the program.
At 55 hours, 46 minutes, as the crew finished a 49-minute TV broadcast showing how
comfortably they lived and worked in weightlessness, Lovell said, "This is the crew of Apollo 13
wishing everybody there a nice evening, and we're just about ready to close out our inspection of
Aquarius and get back for a pleasant evening in Odyssey. Good night."
Nine minutes later, oxygen tank No. 2 blew up, causing the No. 1 tank to also fail. The command
module's normal supply of electricity, light and water was lost, and they were about 200,000
miles from Earth.
The warning lights indicated the loss of two of three fuel cells, which were the spacecraft's prime
source of electricity. With warning lights blinking, one oxygen tank appeared to be completely
empty and there were indications that the oxygen in the second tank was rapidly depleting.
The message came in the form of a sharp bang and vibration at 9:08 p.m. April 13. Swigert saw
a warning light that accompanied the bang and said, "Houston, we've had a problem here."
Ground controllers in Houston faced a formidable task. Completely new procedures had to be
written and tested in the simulator before being passed up to the crew. The navigation problem
had to be solved; essentially how, when and in what attitude to burn the LM descent engine to
provide a quick return home.
One of the big questions was, "How to get back safely to Earth?" The LM navigation system
wasn't designed to help in this situation. Before the explosion at 30 hours, 40 minutes, Apollo 13
had made the normal midcourse correction, which would take it out of a free-return- to-Earth
trajectory and put it on a lunar landing course. Now the task was to get back on a free-return
They were facing a number of concerns like power, water and removal of carbon di oxide. The
crew conserved water. They cut down to six ounces each per day, 1/5 of normal intake, and used
fruit juices; they ate hot dogs and other wet-pack foods when they ate at all. Lovell lost 14
pounds and the crew lost a total of 31.5 pounds, nearly 50 percent more than any other crew.
The trip was marked by discomfort beyond the lack of food and water. Sleep was almost
impossible because of the cold. When the electrical systems were turned off, the spacecraft lost
an important source of heat. The temperature dropped to 38 degrees Fahrenheit and
condensation formed on all the walls.
Four hours before landing, the crew shed the service module; mission control had insisted on
retaining it until then because everyone feared what the cold of space might do to the un-
sheltered CM heat shield. Photos of the service module showed one whole panel missing and
wreckage hanging out, it was a mess as it drifted away. Three hours later, the crew left the lunar
module Aquarius and then splashed down gently in the Pacific Ocean near Samoa.