Revisiting Key Apollo 13 Mission Moments ~ Part 3

Well folks, what can I say… other than… “Houston, I’ve had a problem!” (Houston = WordPress Readers)…

Not unlike the actual, original Apollo 13, mission (04 / 11 – 17 / 1970), my originally planned mission to blog about… recreate / relive… the key moments of this flight had all started out well, but, within days, the problems began to pile up.

You see, against the backdrop of our raging global pandemic, I had prioritized that damned subject matter too damned much. I wound up losing sleep over it… so much so that, instead of keeping up with my detailed Apollo mission timeline transcript, I wound up snoozing through too many of the very events I should’ve been covering.

Obviously, since I could not go back in time to fix the problem (i.e., to synchronize / top off my posts with the appropriate WordPress timestamps), my premise “lost air”… not unlike how, following an explosion, the crippled Apollo Service Module had vented life sustaining oxygen into the unforgiving vacuum of deep space.

Fortunately, all’s not lost. There’s still one key event, ISO a timestamp, that’ll neatly wrap up this pandemic truncated series…

Yes, indeed, the very finest moment of the Flight of Apollo 13 occurred on this very day, when Command Module pilot Jack Swigert successfully navigated Apollo 13 through that unforgivingly narrow, 2° wide, reentry corridor. Following a fiery reentry through Earth’s atmosphere, Swigert, along with crewmates Jim Lovell and Fred Haise, finally made it home, splashed down in the South Pacific Ocean (coordinates 21°38′24″S 165°21′42″W) at 18:07:41 UTC or 12:07:41 CST… or stated more conventionally, at approximately 12:08 p.m. Houston time. From that moment, onward, the Flight of Apollo 13 would be dubbed: NASA’s successful failure mission.

A brief aside re our above clip… I’ve opted to go the Hollywood route because Director Ron Howard’s film far better captures the palpable tension and raw human emotion of the moment… and all set to the swell of a symphonic musical score that’s even backed by an angelic choir. We even get to witness the steely-eyed missile man, Flight Director Gene Kranz (portrayed by actor Ed Harris), blink back tears upon the realization that he / his entire ground crew’s ceaseless, concerted efforts had saved all three astronauts’ lives.

To this day, I still shudder at the mere thought of how Lovell, Swigert, and Haise had been one error in judgment away from becoming entombed within the inky, icy void of outer space… throughout eternity.

Checking my wristwatch I see this post’s “splash down” time is nearing… with just enough time for a few parting thoughts…

• NASA’s historic and heroic team effort… their flawless, improvised (literally on the fly) rescue mission… had been… still is… and shall… perhaps, throughout perpetuity… represent human ingenuity and resolve at it’s very finest.

• Seeing how, at present, humankind has monumental stumbling blocks to overcome, inclusive of an unpardonable, political leadership vacuum (of astronomical proportions), only God knows how long it’ll take before we Americans can even begin to reclaim our can-do spirit. It’s likely that the half-century old high bar, which NASA had established during Apollo 13’s week long mission shall remain out of reach for the foreseeable future.

• For now, from a technological standpoint, April 17, 1970 / 18:07:41 UTC, will remain humanity’s finest hour. We can only hope that someone… maybe some inventive soul, who’s yet to even be born… can equal or top this feat long before the final sentence of the final page of our story gets written.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revisiting Key Apollo 13 Mission Moments ~ Part 1

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.