fifty years ago April 16, 1970 Archives

Crisis in Space

From an editorial

If all had gone well with the Apollo 13 mission, Astronauts James Lovell and Fred Haise should now have been happily making their last-minute preparations in the lunar landing module for setting foot on the moon. Instead they, along with their colleague, Astronaut John Swigert, are at this moment battling for life as their crippled spaceship hurtles down for an emergency splashdown scheduled for Friday (April 17, 1970) in the Pacific Ocean. That the three are still alive and have a fighting chance of safe return is itself a tribute to their courage and efficiency in face of fearful odds and to the competence of the technologists and scientists on the ground who are helping to bring the ill-fated craft back to earth. Right from the start of the final phase, the Apollo 13 mission has had luck in short supply. The flight had to be delayed for a month because of a cut in financial allocations which also led to the mission's objectives having to be curtailed. Next as D-day approached, there was labour trouble at a key tracking station in Australia which threatened postponement of the flight Even as this trouble was settled, one of the Apollo crew, Thomas Mattingly, got exposed to German measles and had to be taken out of the operation and postponement was again threatened. An able substitute was however found in John Swigert and Apollo 13 was launched according to schedule. Then soon after the take-off a rocket on the Saturn second stage engine shut down too early causing anxious moments.

But all these hitches pale into insignificance compared to what later happened. About 300,000 kilometres away from the earth, when everything seemed to be going well, two of the three fuel cells on the command ship, Odyssey, failed, gravely restricting the supply of oxygen and electric power. The authorities on the ground at once called off the rest of the mission and ordered the crew to bring the spaceship back.

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Printable version | Dec 8, 2021 9:34:45 AM |

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