One half century ago, on this very day, at 13:13 (Houston time), NASA blasted off Apollo 13 astronauts… the veteran Jim Lovell and rookies Fred Haise and Jack Swigert… sent them successfully rocketing into Earth orbit (in spite of a second stage rocket’s untimely shut down of one of its five engines).
Everyone had (prematurely) breathed a sigh of relief that they had gotten that typical “one” mission glitch under their belts so soon… or so they thought…
Approximately three hours later, the crew reignited their SIV-B third stage rocket, to commence and complete the TLI maneuver (TransLunar Injection), which sent them hurling onward for a week long, one half million mile, round trip odyssey to the Moon. All started out well, but…
Barely two days into their mission, Swigert transmitted earthward, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” and that statement was soon echoed, nearly verbatim, by Commander Lovell’s “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”
That phrase… oft misquoted as “Houston, we’ve got a problem.”… perhaps for the rest of humanity’s existence… will remain our synonym for calling attention to disasters great and small.
For the next seven days, it is my intent to recreate key Apollo 13 mission moments via my YouTube clip enhanced blogs.
My commitment goes way beyond my being a NASA geek (backdating to their earliest Project Mercury and Gemini manned missions). While I had been repeatedly WOWED throughout their early successes it was during Apollo 13’s quadruple failure of vital spacecraft systems that these pros had WOWED me even further… maybe even more than when I witnessed Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong become the first human to take his “one small step” onto the lunar surface.
Being impressed to such a degree involved… still does… my indescribable feelings upon witnessing NASA’s Flight Director / Manager Gene Kranz and his entire ground crew promptly setting aside ambition to masterfully improvise… literally on the fly… a rescue mission… to make saving the lives of Lovell, Haise and Swigert PRIORITY #1!
Kranz said it all when he addressed his team, thusly…
“Let’s work the problem, people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing. We’ve never lost an American in space, we’re sure as hell not gonna lose one on my watch! Failure is not an option!”
It was during film director Ron Howard’s dramatization of the flight of Apollo 13, that actor Ed Harris (in the role of Kranz) had dubbed this rescue effort “NASA’s finest hour” and I wholeheartedly concur. From a technological perspective, I’ve yet to see a finer example of humanity’s can do / never give up spirit.
My game plan on this historic day is to watch (actually re-watch) the above YouTube clip… the PBS 1994 Documentary: “APOLLO 13: To The Edge And Back” and I invite you to do so, too.
Hey, that’s not a bad way to wile away the hours, together, while still complying with social distancing protocols.