Additional Links

Back to the 1960s

Apollo 13

Apollo 13’s original destination was the Fra Mauro region of the moon, yet on April 13, 1970, the crew members of Apollo 13 experienced an explosion in their second oxygen tank which consequently destroyed fuel cells in the service module. This was the United States’ third mission intended to land men on the moon. Believed to be cursed by the unlucky number, Apollo 13 has become one of the most “successful failures” in space travel history.

James A. Lovell, Jr., Fred W. Haise, Jr., and John L. Swigert, Jr. were the three astronauts on board the infamous trip. Just days before takeoff, the original command module pilot, Ken Mattingly, contracted a case of the measles and had to be replaced by Swigert. Apollo 13 lifted off on April 11, 1970 at 2:13 P.M. from Cape Kennedy, Florida. On Monday the 13th, the astronauts finished a short T.V. appearance showing Americans the laidback lifestyle of living in space, yet nine minutes later, 56 hours into the flight, the astronauts experienced a “loud bang” to the command module’s oxygen tank. This explosion, as later would be discovered, caused the power, water, and oxygen source in the command module, Odyssey, to fail immediately. It was then that Swigert sent Mission Control in Houston, Texas the notice “Hey, we’ve had a problem here!” With their oxygen source declining with every passing second, the three men feared the blast caused a leak, so they attempted to close the latches between the command module and lunar module but failed to shut the stubborn door. Realizing there was no leak, the men abandoned their efforts and proceeded to take refuge in the lunar module, Aquarius, where the oxygen power and electricity would be maintained until Flight Director Eugene Kranz and his team could devise a plan to rescue the astronauts.

Aquarius only held enough oxygen for two men to last two days. Mission Control gave the men directions in order to create an air purifier system out of old materials on the spacecraft. This system, made of duct tape, plastic bags, and tubes taken from their space suits, was able to filter out the carbon dioxide from the air and save some much needed oxygen. The men also had to cut down on their water intake. Each man gave up 6 ounces every day of water, and as a result, they became extremely dehydrated. As a whole, the crew lost 50% more weight than any other Apollo crew due to their diet. To make matters worse, the loss of some electricity caused the temperature of the spacecraft to drop to 38° F. Mission Control feared that the condensation forming on the inside of the command module would cause further problems with the wiring when the men would reenter the earth’s atmosphere, yet modifications made to the paneling before takeoff proved to be successful in preventing any further catastrophes.

After the explosion, the spacecraft aborted all intended missions, and instead, circled around the back of the moon and returned toward Earth again. The crew then moved into the command module and abandoned the damaged service module and lunar module, Aquarius, which was not built to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere. After about 143 hours of flight, the command module landed on target in the Pacific Ocean close to Samoa. The U.S.S. Iwo Jima picked up the astronauts on April 17th and carried the men to Hawaii to meet their families. President Richard Nixon met with the men and Mission Control in Hawaii in order to give them the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Later investigation would show that the internal heat components of the second oxygen tank were mistakenly damaged in the testing process and the thermostatic switches on the heaters had not been modified with the new spacecraft causing overheating and eventually the explosion.

Researched by Taylor Romero
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum
Cosby High School


Apollo 13. Compton’s by Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica. 2005. eLibrary. Proquest CSA. CHESTERFIELD CO PUBLIC SCHOOLS. 07 May 2008. .

Goldwag, Arthur. “Disaster in Space.” Storyworks. 01 Jan 2008. 8. eLibrary. Proquest CSA. CHESTERFIELD CO PUBLIC SCHOOLS. 07 May 2008. .

Kay, Grinter, Curator. “Apollo 13.” Kennedy Space Center 02 Apr 2002 13 May 2008 .

Lovell James A., Jr. Compton’s by Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica. 2005. eLibrary. Proquest CSA. CHESTERFIELD CO PUBLIC SCHOOLS. 07 May 2008. .

For additional information click here.

Back to Top

Note: Links to external sites will open in new browser windows and are not endorsed by The Cold War Museum.

The Cold War Museum

P.O. Box 861526

(7142 Lineweaver Road)

Vint Hill, VA 20187

(540) 341-2008