This day in History: 1970 - With the world anxiously watching, Apollo 13, a U.S. lunar spacecraft that suffered a severe malfunction on its journey to the moon, safely returns to Earth on April 17, 1970.
On April 11, the third manned lunar landing mission was launched from Florida, carrying astronauts James A. Lovell, John L. Swigert and Fred W. Haise. The mission was headed for a landing on the Fra Mauro highlands of the moon. However, two days into the mission, disaster struck 200,000 miles from Earth when oxygen tank No. 2 blew up in the spacecraft. Swigert reported to mission control on Earth, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here,” and it was discovered that the normal supply of oxygen, electricity, light and water had been disrupted.
The landing mission was aborted, and the astronauts and controllers on Earth scrambled to come up with emergency procedures. The crippled spacecraft continued to the moon, looped around it, and began a long, cold journey back to Earth.
The astronauts and mission control were faced with enormous logistical problems in stabilizing the spacecraft and its oxygen supply, as well as running on batteries due to the loss of the fuel cells to allow successful reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. Navigation was another problem, and Apollo 13‘s course was repeatedly corrected with dramatic and untested maneuvers. On April 17, tragedy turned to triumph as the Apollo 13 astronauts touched down safely in the Pacific Ocean.
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