Blackwell 1Cody J. BlackwellMrs. CorbettAP Lit/Comp17 November 2011 Apollo 13: “Failure Is Not an Option” “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade isout, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Addressing Congresson May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy invigorated a war-weary United States of Americawith the prospect of extraterrestrial exploration. Although Kennedy never witnessed the “giantleap for mankind,” the president’s remarks embodied the American scientific community’sdriving force for the next decade. Had Kennedy lived to experience Apollo 13, it is likely hewould have only then grasped the tremendous risk and the depth of scientific precision lunarlandings entail. On October 4, 1957, the United Soviet Socialist Republic launched into orbit the firstman-made satellite, Sputnik I. The craft was no larger than a grapefruit, but its distinctive beepand visible light simultaneously frightened and empowered the United States. Although the U.S.and the Soviet Union had sparred over ideological differences since World War II, neither nationhad ever carried out an act that could be classified “aggressive” until Sputnik’s launch. The veryconcept of propelling a synthetic object into low Earth orbit (LEO) reinforced suspicions of theSoviets’ capability to launch weapons of mass destruction into space. Recognizing that threat,Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act in July1958. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration became operational just three daysshort of the Sputnik launch’s one-year anniversary (Byrnes). NASA’s initial objective for the Mercury missions was to send at least one newly-dubbed“astronaut” into LEO, triumphing with Alan Shepard’s historic suborbital flight in May 1961.
Blackwell 2Though the Mercury launches proved highly successful (seven astronauts entered outer spacethroughout the program), the administration seems never to have considered further-reachinglunar exploration possibilities until Shepard’s launch proved humans could, in fact, enter outerspace and return safely to Earth’s surface. President Kennedy made his bold and historicstatement of NASA’s intent just three weeks later. Despite the vital data generated by theMercury missions, NASA prudently chose not to transition fully into the lunar exploratory stagewithout conducting further endurance tests, justifying the three-year-long Gemini project. Overten consecutive successful flights from 1963 to 1966, NASA trained future Apollo astronauts forthe 239,000-mile journey to the Moon. Satisfied with its Gemini results, the administration setFebruary 24, 1967 for its Apollo 1 mission date, yet based on subsequent events, many historiansbelieve NASA never adequately asked, “What if?” Vastly rewarded by the Mercury and Gemini missions, NASA’s first administrators foundtheir agency the most revered government bureau in the post-New Deal era. While the space racewith Russia seemed to mount with each launch, American patriotism counteracted any prioraversions to human space exploration. When Roger Chaffee, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, and EdwardWhite crammed themselves into the compact car-sized Apollo Command/Service Module (CSM)on January 27, 1967, they and their supervisors experienced a strong sense of euphoria as theytested the very systems that would carry Chaffee, Grissom, and White to the Moon just onemonth later. Harnessed snugly into their seats, the three members of an infant society of “heroes”listened to the capsule communicator (CAPCOM), twisting dials and adjusting switches as hedictated their boot-up instructions. While NASA had ample time beforehand to brainstorm and rehearse all possiblecatastrophic failure scenarios, the euphoria of prior mission successes apparently lulled the
Blackwell 3administration into skipping essential safety precautions, and the cost of such insufficientdiligence was measured in the ghastly loss of human lives. After five-and-a-half hours in theCSM, tragedy struck: “Fire broke out in the command module of the Apollo spacecraft, whichhad been filled with a pure oxygen atmosphere, and [Chafee, Grissom, and White] died”(Newton et al.). It was physically impossible for any of the three, lying with their backs towardthe ground, to unbuckle and abandon the capsule. Even if the astronauts had been able to escapetheir seats, design engineers had installed a new six-bolt capsule hatch that required ninetyseconds to open. For eighteen months following the Apollo 1 disaster, scientists and engineerseffectively rewrote the agency’s numerous safety manuals and redesigned the CSM hatch toalleviate future evacuations. In light of the meticulous retooling process, astronauts Walter“Wally” Schirra Jr., Donn F. Eisele, and R. Walter Cunningham cleared the atmosphere withApollo 7 on October 11, 1968 (“Project Apollo”). NASA followed its first triumphant Apollomission with two lunar orbits and three landings. Since its inception, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration strove to recruitthe brightest and most qualified engineers, scientists, and military personnel worldwide. TheApollo program boasted an especially diverse spectrum of contributors, from elite Air Force testpilots serving as astronauts and flight commanders to former German scientists applying theirexperience with Nazi V-2 rockets on Saturn V’s propulsion systems. NASA’s proficiencybecame particularly apparent with the eighth Apollo mission. Astronauts James Lovell, ThomasKenneth “Ken” Mattingly II, and Fred W. Haise Jr. spent several months completing rigoroustraining for Apollo 13, the third planned lunar landing. Mattingly frequently encompassedhimself in the CSM simulator at Houston’s Johnson Space Center and attempted particularlyarduous recovery scenarios while Lovell and Haise performed mock space walks nearby.
Blackwell 4Unfortunately, “[d]ays before the mission, backup lunar module pilot Charles Duke [sic]inadvertently exposed [Mattingly] to German measles…Mattingly had no immunity to measlesand was replaced by backup command module pilot, [John L. ‘Jack’] Swigert” (Ryba).Fortunately for his crewmates, Mattingly may have better served his purpose on the ground atMission Control. NASA inserted Lovell, Haise, and Swigert into orbit at 2:13 P.M. on April 11,1970, and 55 hours, 55 minutes, 35 seconds after launch, Swigert radioed CAPCOM JackLousma, “Houston, we’ve had a problem” (Barry and Garber). Swigert’s fear-laden but calmlydelivered message followed the explosion of the command module’s second oxygen tank, whichcut the remaining tank’s capacity in half and effectively crippled two of three fuel cells poweringthe entire apparatus. Just nine minutes before Lousma received the signal, the crew had signedoff from a national news conference showcasing their working conditions inside Odyssey, Apollo13’s command module. For the first time in NASA’s brief history, Houston’s Mission Control Center took on itsmost daunting task yet: Keep three astronauts alive in a floundering spacecraft 200,000 milesfrom Earth. Acting on protocol, Mission Control immediately aborted the lunar landing andordered Lovell, Haise, and Swigert to stand by for further instructions from CAPCOM Lousma.Lovell radioed back to Lousma, “It looks to me, looking out the hatch, that we are ventingsomething. We are venting something out into the—into space” (“One Minute with”). The“something” Lovell saw leaking from Odyssey was oxygen he and his comrades needed tosurvive the remainder of the journey. In addition to sacrificing breathable air, the destroyedtanks’ contents failed to combine with cryogenic hydrogen as a water source for the astronauts.Approximately ninety minutes after the initial explosion, assistant Flight Director Glynn Lunneyissued a last-ditch directive through Lousma: “The astronauts were instructed to move into [the
Blackwell 5lunar module] Aquarius, which would serve as a lifeboat while the disabled Apollo 13 swungaround the Moon and headed homeward” (“Apollo 13”). Haise and Lovell proceeded intoAquarius as Swigert prepared to shut down Odyssey and readied the crippled service module forpre-entry jettison. Meanwhile, Ken Mattingly wrestled through the shutdown process in the CSMsimulator, generating instructions for Swigert. Swigert eventually floated out of the lifelessservice module, and Lovell and Haise immediately sealed Odyssey to conserve Aquarius’soxygen supply for the ninety-hour journey ahead. Ironically, the two prior missions had proven the lunar module (LM) design reliable…onthe Moon. NASA fabricated the LM to sustain two astronauts for a total of 45 hours, but MissionControl devised procedures for Aquarius to support Lovell, Haise, and Swigert for double thattime. “The module designed to land on the Moon was refashioned…as engineers struggled tocome up with a way to bring the spacecraft back to Earth” (Brown). To conserve Aquarius’sdiminutive power supply, Mission Control directed the astronauts to shut off all non-vitalsystems, including heat sources, for twelve-hour periods. “The four-day return trip, during whichtemperatures in the LM were near [38 degrees Fahrenheit], was uncomfortable and tense.”(“Project Apollo”). Due to the unpleasant conditions inside Aquarius, the three astronautsshivered rather than slept, and their labored breathing from the depleted oxygen levels neverfully subsided. The astronauts’ increased exhalation formed condensation on Aquarius’s poorly-insulated walls and signaled a subsequent rise in carbon dioxide levels. “There were enoughlithium hydroxide canisters, which remove carbon dioxide from the spacecraft, but the squarecanisters from the command module were not compatible with the round openings in the lunarmodule environmental system….Mission control devised a way to attach the CM canisters to theLM system by using plastic bags, cardboard and [duct] tape all materials carried on board”
Blackwell 6(Ryba). Reading from notes recorded by NASA’s ingenious design engineers, CAPCOMLousma walked Lovell and Haise through the assembly process for the makeshift valve. Testedthrough simple trial and error at Mission Control, the entire apparatus supplied all threeastronauts enough oxygen to survive, however uneasily, as they rounded the Moon on April 15th. Fortunately, the expedition from the dark side of the Moon to Earth’s outer orbittranspired without life-threatening incidents, but leftover “space trash” from the explosion threedays earlier continually hampered Mission Control’s positioning efforts. Unable to find a truestar among the debris, Commander Lovell aligned the LM with the Sun. “As [Aquarius]approached Earth, [Lovell] fired the landers engine again to put [the crew] on the propertrajectory. Then they moved back into the lifeless command module and cut it loose for alanding” (Damon). To say that the crew “cut [Odyssey] loose” is an understatement: Lovell,Haise, and Swigert followed procedures that flight controllers had written in three days insteadof the usual three months. Yet, the instructions allowed the crew to completely shed the wreckedservice module four hours before landing and the command module one hour later. Thankfully,Lovell, Haise, and Swigert landed in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of American Samoa,completing the mission in approximately five days, twenty-two hours, and fifty-five minutes onApril 17, 1970 (Ryba). Celebrating with assistants Glynn Lunney and Gerald Griffin, head Flight Director GeneKranz passed the customary box of cigars around the Mission Control Center in Houston while aCoast Guard flotilla retrieved his jubilant comrades. In a 2009 interview with TIME magazine,columnist Jeffrey Kruger asked Commander Lovell if he, Haise, or Swigert had panicked at anypoint after the initial explosion. “Lovell answered that the three men had agreed never to discussthat matter with anyone else and never would.” Lovell’s response personified the entire astronaut
Blackwell 7corps’ sworn secrecy regarding their trials within and traverses of space, but one can conjecturethat if any one of the men had lost his nerve, all three would have died in space. Sadly, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration cannot boast perfection: theApollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia disasters claimed a total of seventeen astronauts’ lives.Regardless, outstanding feats in engineering and psychological endurance aided Jim Lovell, FredHaise, and Jack Swigert as they navigated through outer space in the United States spaceprogram’s ultimate survival tale, Apollo 13.
Blackwell 8 Works Cited“Apollo 13.” Encyclopaedia Britannica Online School Edition. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2011. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://www.school.eb.com/eb/article-9474373>.Barry, Bill, and Steve Garber. “Detailed Chronology of Events Surrounding the Apollo 13 Accident.” NASA History. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 17 June 2011. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/Timeline/ apollo13chron.html>.Brown, Irene. “Emergencies.” Space Sciences. Ed. Pat Dasch. Vol. 3. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2002. 50-52. Humans in Space. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/ i.do?id=GALE%7CCX3408800239&v=2.1&u=cant48040&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w>.Byrnes, Mark E. "National Aeronautics and Space Administration." Dictionary of American History. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed. Vol. 5. New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 2003. 523-24. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/ i.do?id=GALE%7CCX3401802831&v=2.1&u=cant48040&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w>.Damon, Thomas. “History of Humans in Space.” Space Sciences. Ed. Pat Dasch. Vol. 3. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2002. 79-84. Humans in Space. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/ i.do?&id=GALE%7CCX3408800255&v=2.1&u=cant48040&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w>.
Blackwell 9Kruger, Jeffrey. “Moon Walkers.” Time 27 July 2009: 28-35. Academic Search Complete. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://proxygsu-sche.galileo.usg.edu/ login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/ login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=43281978&site=ehost-live>.Newton, David E., et al. “Spacecraft, Manned.” The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. Ed. K. Lee Lerner and Brenda Wilmoth Lerner. 3rd ed. Vol. 5. Detroit: Gale, 2004. 3734-42. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/ i.do?id=GALE%7CCX3418502122&v=2.1&u=cant48040&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w>.“One Minute with the Apollo 13 Astronauts.” New Scientist 25 Dec. 2010: 3. Academic Search Complete. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://proxygsu-sche.galileo.usg.edu/ login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/ login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=57220916&site=ehost-live>.“Project Apollo.” Space Exploration Reference Library. Vol. 1. Detroit: UXL, 2005. 160-85. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/ i.do?&id=GALE%7CCX3441400018&v=2.1&u=cant48040&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w>.Ryba, Jeanne, ed. “Apollo 13.” Apollo. NASA - Humankind’s first steps on the lunar surface, 8 July 2009. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/missions/ apollo13.html>.