As NASA marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission – which has become known as “a successful failure” that saw the safe return of its crew in spite of a catastrophic explosion – the agency is sharing a variety of resources, recognizing the triumph of the mission control team and the astronauts, and looking at how those lessons learned can be applied to its lunar Artemis program.
“Our goal 50 years ago was to save our valiant crew after sending them around the Moon and return them safely to Earth,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Our goal now is to return to the Moon to stay, in a sustainable way. We are working hard to ensure that we don’t need to respond to this kind of emergency in Artemis, but to be ready to respond to any problems we don’t anticipate.”
The crew of Apollo 13 consisted of Commander James (Jim) Lovell Jr., Command Module Pilot John Swigert Jr. and Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise Jr. Their Saturn V rocket launched at 2:13 p.m. EST on April 11,1970, from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The command module was named Odyssey, and the lunar module was named Aquarius.
While en route to the Moon on April 13, an oxygen tank in the Apollo service module ruptured. The lunar landing and moonwalks, which would have been executed by Lovell and Haise, were aborted as a dedicated team of flight controllers and engineering experts in the Apollo Mission Control Center devoted their efforts to developing a plan to shelter the crew in the lunar module as a “lifeboat” and retain sufficient resources to bring the spacecraft and its crew back home safely. Splashdown occurred in the Pacific Ocean at 1:07 p.m. April 17, after a flight that lasted five days, 22 hours and 54 minutes.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, no NASA in-person activities are planned or sponsored to mark the Apollo 13 anniversary. However, a wealth of new content and programming, historic documents, still and video imagery are available online, including previously unreleased conversations between the crew of Apollo 13 and the recently restored Apollo Mission Control Center in Houston. This dialogue includes the now-famous exchange between Lovell and mission control during which Lovell utters the phrase, “Hey Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”