What can we learn from Apollo 13?
My friends, we've had a problem...
Imagine this scenario: You're finally at a point in your life where everything you've worked so hard for is finally paying off. You've dreamed about doing this very thing since you were a child and have worked tirelessly toward this goal and it's about to pay off.
Everything is going like a dream, some would even consider it "boring" and don't pay much attention. Sure, there might have been a few hiccups along the way, but nothing worth bothering you because this is your time.
Suddenly, what started out as something routine turns out to be an absolute disaster. In a matter of minutes your dreams are crushed and everything becomes so uncertain that you're not even sure if you're going to wake up tomorrow morning. The very thing you set out to study and explore is now officially trying to kill you at every turn. There's nowhere to turn, no one to come to your aid, you can't even leave your immediate area or you might die, you're in a load of trouble.You listen to the reports and it only sounds worse each time you check in. To make matters more challenging, the people with you have never done anything like this before.
Given the pandemic crisis raging across the globe, I know there are a lot of people who on some level feel this way. I'm personally struggling with the uncertainty of the times, my life plans are currently on hold and the news is nothing short of alarming. I know I'm not alone in this.
In my state of isolation, I've been studying up on my favorite portion of history: the Apollo space program. Last July we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, which was the first time in history a man set foot on another planet. After the first landing, there were 5 more successful landing missions over the next three years. Apollo 13, however, was not so successful. This April will be the 50th anniversary of the most intense space mission ever carried out. This was where the famous quote, "Houston, we've had a problem." comes from. It drives me crazy when everyone says, "Houston, we have a problem."
Back in 1970, astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert set off into space on the massive Saturn V rocket to explore the region of the moon known as the Fra Mauro Highlands. This was an exciting mission for scientists and explorers alike. Not only was this a scientifically significant area for studying the moon, NASA was finally at a point in the lunar program where it was no longer testing and figuring things out, mankind was finally ready to begin exploring our closest celestial neighbor.
Commander Jim Lovell was the most experienced astronaut by this point having done 3 previous missions in space, including the first time anyone has ever orbited the moon. Walking on the moon was the very reason he signed up to be an astronaut in the first place. Lunar Module pilot Fred Haise was an astronaut for some time and was finally set for his first mission. He was also scheduled to be commander for Apollo 19, but that mission was cut not long after, so he never had another chance to land on the moon. Command Module Jack Swigert was a last minute change to the crew due to the original crew member Ken Mattingly being exposed to measles. (See, astronauts have always taken this sort of thing seriously.)
Everything was going so well that the news didn't feel like broadcasting any coverage of the mission. The people in mission control were basically getting bored and totally let their guard down. Not a single person in the world could have known what was going to happen, nor was there anyway to prevent it once they were in space. During the testing of the command module on the ground, a small copper wire was exposed inside one of the liquid oxygen tanks. When Swigert stirred the tanks, a small spark caused the oxygen to ignite. Half of the service module was blown off, two of the three oxygen tanks were emptied and two of the three fuel cells were killed. Oxygen was needed to breathe and to power the fuel cells, the fuel cells produced electricity and water, water was needed for drinking and cooling the system. The command module's life support had less than two hours left before the crew would have suffocated on their own carbon dioxide. The service module was useless, so they couldn't use the thrusters to adjust position, nor was the main booster able to turn them around to get home. The only way for them to get home was to swing around the moon, use its gravity to slingshot them back to Earth, then make a careful rocket burn with the lunar module to get on the right path home. If everything went right, it would still take at least three days to get home.
Obviously, there wasn't going to be a landing. This turned into a matter of survival. The astronauts rushed over to the lunar module and used it as a lifeboat. This module wasn't made for this purpose. Its purpose was to land two men on the moon, keep them alive for two days and get them back to the command module safely. Now, it has three men it for three days. It was cramped, it was cold because all non-essential systems were tur