Apollo 13 in Trouble

LiveAuctionTalk.com:  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Bonhams.

The Apollo 13 space mission and its epic journey to the moon were in big trouble. 

Failure is not an option. When you leave this room, you must leave believing that this crew is coming home.  I don’t give a damn about the odds. 
— Gene Kranz, Flight Director

About 205,000 miles from earth a tank exploded in the Service Module and the spacecraft lost oxygen, water and power.  Two of the three electrical power cells were also dead. 

Commander Jim Lovell and shipmates Fred Haise and John Swigert began powering down all the systems as fast as they could before the electricity was gone.  In order to survive the crew would have to use their Lunar Module as a lifeboat, a lifeline.  Its oxygen would keep them alive. 

The cramped vessel was designed to hold two men for about two days.  Now it would serve as a sanctuary for three until the mission’s end. 

All non-essential systems were shutdown, including heat.  Cold, dehydrated and sleepless the crew kept pushing homeward. 

They would circle the moon but there would be no landing on it this trip.     

Navigation was becoming another problem.  How accurate the Lunar Modules computers were was any anybody’s guess.  There was no way of checking them. 

Like ancient seafarers, the astronauts of Apollo 13 were forced to navigate their way by the stars.  The safest course was to go around the moon.  Once they cleared the far side, gravity would take over and bring them home, they hoped.

The back room of Mission Control in Houston was filled with jittery flight controllers and engineers.  “Failure is not an option,” said flight director Gene Kranz.  “When you leave this room, you must leave believing that this crew is coming home.  I don’t give a damn about the odds.” 

Everyone became part of the solution. 

With so many problems could the crew survive the inferno of reentry?

Millions of people around the world watched and waited.  Navy helicopters patrolled the ocean.  Apollo 13 was a minute and 30 seconds overdue to splash down.  Still nothing.

Then out of the clouds came three parachutes carrying the capsule.  Cheers and applause erupted from Mission Control.  But, that didn’t mean the crew survived.  Gene Kranz stood at his console with tears running down his face.  The control room was silent except for the hum of electronics. 

Then the signal came.  “Odyssey, Houston.  Standing by.  Over,” Jack Swigert blurted out.  The Apollo crew had made it back safely.  

Splashdown happened on April 17, 1970, within sight of the recovery ship, “Iwo Jima.”  The crew of Apollo 13 was on board within 45 minutes.

Apollo 13 was supposed to be the third moon landing.  It ended up being a race for survival, one of the most dramatic Apollo missions in history.

On May 5, Bonhams, New York, featured a selection of Apollo 13 items in its Space History sale.  Included in the auction was the original single-sheet, contingency emergency checklist used to help bring the Apollo 13 crew safely back home. 

The artifact records some of the most important events and procedures performed during the mission.  The sheet had been in the personal space collection of astronaut Fred Haise since 1970.  It sold for $111,020.


Apollo 13; Beta Cloth Emblem; carried on the flight by Lovell; 8 inches square;  $4,636.    

Apollo 11; Color Photo; classic image of Buzz Aldrin on the moon taken by Aldrin after stepping onto the lunar surface;  20 inches by 16 inches;  $5,490

Apollo 13; Robbins Medallion; crew mission emblem; flown medallion belonging to Haise; sterling silver; 1 ½ inches diameter;  $11,590.

Apollo 11; Color Photo; Buzz Aldrin and the Lunar Module; shortly after deploying the seismic experiment left on the moon; signed; 11 inches by 14 inches;  $11,590. 

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her LiveAuctionTalk.com website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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