50 years ago tonight on Apollo 13: “Houston, we had a problem here”

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CNN – On the evening of April 13, 50 years ago, NASA astronauts James Lovell Jr., John Swigert Jr. and Fred Haise Jr. were about to fall asleep for the night in the d ‘Apollo 13. They were about 200,000 miles from Earth on their way to the moon.

Everything was about to change, eventually forcing the crew to abandon their mission.

Here’s what happened, according to recently published interviews with NASA astronauts.

The astronauts had just finished a television program offering a visit to the lunar module which would land on the moon.

On the ground in the Houston Mission Control Center, Apollo 13 flight director Gene Kranz and his team were about to shift to another shift.

In the mission audio, the crew was asked to stir the liquid oxygen tanks. Swigert flipped a switch.

Then an explosion crackled on the Apollo 13 command module audio. “Houston, we had a problem here,” said Lovell.

“We heard this loud bang that echoed with a little echo because the vehicles we were in were metallic,” said Haise in the new NASA documentary, “Apollo 13: Home Safe”.

Haise compared it to being in a barrel that was hit on the side with a hammer.

When one of the oxygen tanks exploded, he broke another.

Lovell recalled seeing that two of the three fuel cells, which develop oxygen, were missing.

“I drifted out the window and looked out the window,” Lovell recently told NASA “Houston, we have a podcast.” “I can’t tell you now why I did it, but when I did, I saw a gaseous substance escaping at high speed from the back of our spacecraft, and it m appeared that yes, we had lost something. And then I looked at the oxygen gauges, and one read zero, and the other went down. ”

Commander James A. Lovell Jr. took a picture of the serious damage to the service module after dropping it. (Photo: NASA)

Apollo 13 was made up of three main components. The control module housed the crew, acted as a control center and enabled them to return to Earth. The service module supplied oxygen, electricity, water, the main propulsion and maneuvering systems for the spacecraft. And the lunar module would allow them to land on the moon.

The explosion hit the service module and effectively killed it, removing all the necessary items it contained for the mission.

As a result, the power to the control module was dying. Without it, they could not return to Earth.

The crew knew they would no longer land on the moon. Now they had to figure out how to get back to Earth.

“I was disappointed in the stomach sick because I knew pretty quickly that we had an aborted mission,” Haise told NASA “Houston, we have a podcast.”

The crew and mission control teams had to act quickly. The control module had only 15 minutes of power left, and they had to save the battery’s energy reserves to get it in. They worked to move everything, including navigation, from the command module to the lunar module during this short period.

He was to land on the moon and hold two men for two days. In the end, he would hold three men for four days when the astronauts and Mission Control both decided to use him as a “lifeboat” for the crew.

The crew had to make several burns, used as course corrections, to put them on the right track which would send them back to Earth.

To do this, Lovell, Haise and Swigert had to circle the moon. Instead, the motors of the lunar module, which would have helped it land and take off from a lunar landing, were used to place it on this path which would use the gravity of the moon and return it to Earth.

At the back of the moon, the astronauts lost contact with Mission Control, as expected.

Lovell had seen the moon during his Apollo 8 mission, but Swigert and Haise saw it for the first time. They photographed him “like tourists,” said Haise.

“We were 130 miles above the surface, which gave us more of the moon’s range to fire,” Haise told H Houston, “we have a podcast.” “Farouk El-Baz, one of our lunar geology trainers, in the lunar scene told us afterwards that we had taken some very good photos that had not been taken before. I think he was trying to make us feel good, that we had done something good on this mission. “

Another burn was necessary after going around the moon. Without it, the spacecraft would drift so far that astronauts would miss Earth in a wide oscillation.

Then the mission was to get the astronauts home as soon as possible. With limited resources, their time was running out. They shut down everything except the survival systems needed in the lunar module. The temperature dropped, reaching 38 degrees Fahrenheit the day they were to land on Earth.

Haise said water is everywhere. It was built on wiring, windows, walls and dashboards.

To keep warm, Haise and Lovell donned the boots they would have worn on the surface of the moon. Swigert put on his spare underwear. But they couldn’t put on their space suits because it would trap the humidity inside.

There was also the problem of carbon dioxide that men exhaled in the cramped quarters of the lunar module. Their carbon dioxide cartridge filled quickly.

Mission Control engineers rushed to find a solution and sent the instructions to the astronauts. Using materials they had on the spacecraft such as plastic bags, tape and cardboard, they were able to establish a connection between the lithium hydroxide tanks in the lunar module and the control module systems .

The lithium hydroxide tanks were able to remove the carbon dioxide and within an hour the levels of carbon dioxide in the lunar module dropped.

“The three of us put it together, and by God, it worked,” Lovell told “Houston, we have a podcast.” “And so, it was a perfect example of teamwork and sort of thinking outside the box. But also slow down and don’t try to rush things. And we got rid of the carbon dioxide to get home safely, otherwise it would have been the end of us. ”

In the field, mission control teams have run simulators to determine how astronauts can return to the Earth’s and Earth’s atmosphere. None of their previous simulations leading up to the mission had prepared for it.

They also had to power up the control module, drop the dead service module and return from the lunar module to the control module in order to also lose the lunar lander. The lunar module, their lifeboat, did not have a heat shield and would be useless when entering.

As they dumped the service module, Lovell took photos.

“An entire side of this spacecraft is missing,” can be heard in the mission audio. He could see material hanging in space from the base to the engines.

The astronauts had to adjust the spacecraft’s angle to the two precise degrees necessary to avoid bouncing off the Earth’s atmosphere or burning when it re-entered, Lovell said. And they had to do it without a computer or display system.

Using the positions of the Earth and the Sun for orientation and pitch, the three astronauts worked together to make corrections for the angle of entry.

When the spacecraft’s parachutes opened after reentry, applause roared over the Mission Control audio.

Looking back, flight directors Kranz and Glynn Lunney realized that everyone was doing the right thing. They had worked together on previous missions. They were comfortable with each other. And they trusted each other.

The USS Iwo Jima was the primary recovery vessel for the Apollo 13 mission. Crew members (from left) astronauts Fred W. Haise Jr. (waving), pilot of the lunar module; John L. Swigert Jr., control module pilot; and James A. Lovell Jr., commander; were transported by helicopter to the ship after a smooth descent. (Photo: NASA)

“It never really converged to the point where you felt you really had total control over what was going on,” Kranz said in “Apollo 13: Home Safe.” “About the time you turned the corner, something new would appear. “

“So it was a question of preparing this whole world and directing it towards a single job: bringing the crew home. And the teams have worked well, ”said Kranz.

“When that really happened, we didn’t have to open books to tell us what we were facing,” said Lunney. “We didn’t need coaching, it happened. We succeeded. “

Lovell said that the positivity allowed the astronauts to continue during the aborted mission. He and Haise thought about the trip 50 years later in a recent reminiscence of NASA’s “Houston, we have a podcast.”

“You have to look at what you have and how to get home,” said Lovell. “And as long as we could overcome one crisis after another, we kept, you know, positive thinking, and until we finally landed.

“The explosion happened just at the right time to make sure we could – or to get us back safely. If the explosion happened, and we had already arrived at high speed to go to the Moon, we probably would have had to go around the moon to come home, and I do not think that the lunar module would have had the electrical capacity to take us home. If the explosion happened after we were in lunar orbit, or you know, around the lunar surface well, we would have been stranded on the moon. “

Ironically, the mission, considered a “successful failure” because the astronauts were safely returned to Earth even if their lunar landing was interrupted, has sparked renewed interest in NASA and space flights for the public. Previous successful flights, like Apollo 11, had made moon landings more normal, said Lovell.

Previous lessons learned from the unfortunate Apollo 1 mission also saved the astronauts on Apollo 13. After the Apollo 1 fire, a major overhaul, including rewiring, was performed on the control module. This meant that the wiring was tight in the control and lunar modules. This avoids any shortage of electricity when water collects as temperatures drop, said Haise.

But the ultimate lesson that the men took from Apollo 13 was what real teamwork can achieve.

“I really learned that you can’t suddenly have a problem, and then just you know, close your eyes and hope there will be a miracle, because the miracle is something you have to do yourself, or have people to help you, “Lovell said.

The-CNN-Wire ™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner company. All rights reserved.

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