April 11, 2005

"Houston, we've had a problem"

Being born in the last days of 1970, I missed all the good stuff.

Today is the 35th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 13. What was supposed to be the third moon mission turned into a gripping drama when bad wiring caused an oxygen tank in the service module to explode, crippling the spacecraft's ability to generate electricity. Without power, the command module became uninhabitable, and astronauts James Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise were forced to use the lunar module as a "lifeboat" - hoping that a craft intended to keep two men alive for two days would keep three alive for four. Thanks to the leadership of flight director Gene Kranz and the support of astronaut Ken Mattingly (who was replaced by Swigert on the flight crew) in the simulator, Apollo 13 returned to earth safely, except for an infection that Haise contracted because of lack of potable water.

Modifications were made to subsequent spacecraft to prevent the same accident from happening again, and NASA made four more successful landings on the moon. As of now, however, it has been 32 years and four months since man stood on the surface of another world.