13 things that saved Apollo 13

By Phil Plait | May 5, 2010 4:16 pm

Universe Today logoI waited until the series was complete so you could see all the posts at once: Nancy Atkinson of Universe Today has written a very cool series called 13 Things That Saved Apollo 13 (link goes to #13, which has links to the previous 12). From the team itself to measles to duct tape, this is a pretty interesting look into NASA’s most successful failure, and a great reminder of what NASA accomplished 40 years ago.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Space

Comments (14)

Links to this Post

  1. 13 Things That Saved Apollo 13 | The Thinker | March 31, 2012
  1. Wait, Tom Hanks isn’t #1? Or would that be Forrest Gump? I’m sure he had something to do with it.

  2. Apollo 13 as saved by Nazis with slide rules who were smart enough to ignore stupid management screaming for real time documentation.

  3. jole

    Larian, at least he gets credit for saving Kevin’s bacon…

  4. ND

    This was an excellent series that brought up important but not commonly known facts and trivia on A13 and the program in general.

  5. The Other Ian

    It’s amazing how many things there were that went right on Apollo 13 just by sheer dumb luck.

  6. Cindy

    I have to show that one to my dad who worked on the Lunar Module. When I saw the movie “Apollo 13″ with my parents, my mom knew one of the astronauts in college and my dad knew the head RCA engineer (the one who kept saying “but it wasn’t designed to do that…”). My dad said that the movie didn’t get the head engineer right.

  7. jcm

    You should have linked to the first part.


    Off topic:
    Read some Onion®-style commedy on free speech (NSFW):
    http://www.theonion.com/articles/supreme-court-upholds-freedom-of-speech-in-obsceni,17372/

  8. Messier Tidy Upper

    I’m still reading the novelisation (non-fiction novel?) of the Apollo 13 adventure by Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger and will wait until I’ve finished to read this – saw it was there on the Carnival of Space entry. I’m lokingforwrad toreading it though.

    If i can venure a guess though : Was one of the thirteen things that saved Apollo 13 the star Nunki* spotted on a crucial position-navigation check? (Page 238)

    .. the sun set behind the moon, and Apollo 13 moved completely into shadow. Outside the spacecraft, the sparkling debris at last disappeared, and on all sides of the ship, at all angles, and in all axes, the sky was suddenly lit up with curtains of ice-white stars.

    “Houston”, Lovell said, “the sun has gone down and – man – look -at- those – stars!”

    “Is that Nunki out there? ” Haise asked turning to the window and pointing to the star Lovell had barely spotted earlier but that now stood out like a lighthouse beacon.

    “Yes” said Lovell ..

    -Page 238, Apolo 13 Lovell & Kruger, Coronet, 1995.

    * Along with the star Antares

  9. Messier Tidy Upper

    Ran out of edit time – EDITED VERSION for clarity. Sorry :

    ****

    I’m still reading the novelisation (non-fiction novel?) of the Apollo 13 adventure by Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger and will wait until I’ve finished reading that before I read this to avoid “spoilers.” I saw that article was there earlier on the BA’s Carnival of Space entry too.

    (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/05/03/carnival-of-space-152/ )

    If I can venure a guess though : Was one of the thirteen things that saved Apollo 13 the star Nunki* (http://stars.astro.illinois.edu/sow/nunki.html ) or Sigma Sagittarii spotted on a crucial position-navigation check?

    .. the sun set behind the moon, and Apollo 13 moved completely into shadow. Outside the spacecraft, the sparkling debris** at last disappeared, and on all sides of the ship, at all angles, and in all axes, the sky was suddenly lit up with curtains of ice-white stars.

    “Houston”, Lovell said, “the sun has gone down and – man – look -at- those – stars!”

    “Is that Nunki out there? ” Haise asked turning to the window and pointing to the star Lovell had barely spotted earlier but that now stood out like a lighthouse beacon.

    “Yes” said Lovell, “and I can see Antares much better.”
    -Page 238, Apollo 13, Lovell & Kruger, Coronet, 1995.

    Well am I right or not? ;-)

    That book is a great read which I’d definitely recomend & I’m nearly finished it now & looking forward to reading that site next. :-)

    ——–
    * Along with the star Antares & other stars used by the Apollo 13 and other astronauts to help navigate & fix the crafts position and orientation .

    ** Debris created by the service module O2 tank explosion and subsequent venting which was hampering their ability to navigate by creating a “fog” of sparkling particles obscuring and confusing their view and preventing them getting a proper star fix to navigate with for some time.

  10. HvP

    I particularly like this quote from President Nixon’s award speech,

    “We often speak of scientific ‘miracles’ – forgetting that these are not miraculous happenings at all, but rather the product of hard work, long hours and disciplined intelligence” and “The skill coordination and performance under pressure of the mission operations team made it happen. Three brave astronauts are alive and on Earth because of their dedication and because at the critical moments the people of that team were wise enough and self-possessed enough to make the right decisions. Their extraordinary feat is a tribute to man’s ingenuity, to his resourcefulness and to his courage.”

    The hard work of real people saved those men, not magic.

  11. Hey Phil, thanks for the mention! The NASA engineer who I interviewed for this series, Jerry Woodfill, is now taking questions from readers, and we just posted the first round of Q&A at UT: http://www.universetoday.com/2010/05/06/your-questions-about-apollo-13-answered-by-jerry-woodfill/

  12. Ari

    Slightly OT but the duct tape one got me thinking about the carbon dioxide problem during Apollo 13. From the sound of it, oxygen wasn’t a particularly limiting factor during the mission, so would it have been technically feasible to simply depressurize the entire capsule once carbon dioxide got to toxic levels, and then refill with fresh air? Obviously it’s *better* to use the lithium hydroxide, and clearly you’d want to avoid depressurizing the spacecraft at all costs, but was it *impossible*? Or was that going to be plan B if the duct tape didn’t do the trick?

  13. Peter B

    Ari, fascinating idea. I wonder, though, whether the process would have been fairly energy-hungry, and possibly also water hungry (thirsty?). After all, all three astronauts would have had to wear their spacesuits, which meant wearing their liquid-cooled garments, which used water to carry away metabolic heat. Perhaps you could ask Jerry Woodfill at the link in post #11.

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