In pictures: 50th anniversary of the dramatic mission of Apollo 13 | United States

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Astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert boarded the Saturn V rocket on April 11, 1970. They were the crew of the Apollo 13 mission on the moon.

Lovell was the commander of Apollo 13, the lunar lander pilot and Swigert, a last-minute replacement for another astronaut who had been exposed to German measles, the pilot of the command module. Lovell and Haise were the fifth and sixth men to walk on the moon.

But on April 13, the disaster struck.

The astronauts had almost reached the moon when they heard a blow and felt a chill. One of the two oxygen tanks in the service module had ruptured. Within seconds, Houston Mission Control saw oxygen tank B pressure readings plunge to zero.

From then on, the mission was no longer to land on the Moon but to bring it back to living Earth. The astronauts were 322,000 kilometers (200,000 miles) from Earth when the explosion occurred.

On the ground, the flight controllers went into crisis mode, rushing to find a rescue plan. They immediately ordered the closure of the Odyssey control module to conserve the remaining energy, and the astronauts in the Aquarius lunar module, now a lifeboat.

Aquarius was designed for two astronauts for two days – the three crew members are expected to spend four days inside the module.

The carbon dioxide overload from breathing threatened to kill them.

The engineers worked to figure out how to convert the square air purification cartridges in the dead control module into rounds that could fit in the lunar module.

Their solution off the beaten track, the seat of the pants, using the remains of spaceships, worked. But it was so humid and cold in the lunar module that the astronauts could not sleep. Condensation was covering the walls and windows and the temperature was close to freezing.

Dehydrated and feverish, Haise had the hardest time during the six-day trial, contracting a urinary tract infection.

On April 17, the astronauts successfully powered up their condensed control module and the spacecraft decelerated into the atmosphere.

Communications were down as the astronauts made their bold comeback. But ultimately, three inflated parachutes appeared over the Pacific.

The three men returned safely to Earth as the world watched what had become a gripping drama in real life.

The explosion of the tank was then linked to damage caused by electrical overheating during ground tests.



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